Florida is home to world-class fishing and world-class seafood. Fishing as sport and as a source for delicious food is both past time and industry in Florida. Know the few precautions you should take while enjoying the best Florida has to offer. Check local Fish Advisories and monitor the local shellfish harvesting statuses to get the latest information concerning the health and safety of Florida seafood.
Florida Fish Advisories: FDOH Fish Advisories
Shellfish status: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
CFP is an illness that is brought to you by the food chain. Ciguatoxin is a naturally-occurring marine toxin found in large predatory reef fish. These fish accumulate ciguatoxin when they eat other fish which have eaten algae that contain the toxin. People can become sick with CFP when they eat the predatory reef fish—in Florida, that often means barracuda and moray eel but also includes grouper, amberjack, snapper, tuna, kingfish, trevally, sea bass, mackerel, hogfish and mahi-mahi. CFP is one of the most common seafood-toxin illnesses in the world.
CFP symptoms usually show up within 24 hours of eating tainted fish. Symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and cramping usually appear first, followed by symptoms like itchy skin, and achy teeth, muscles or joints. Some people experience painful urination or a tingling sensation in their arms and legs. A very strange symptom is temperature reversal: hot can feel cold and cold can feel hot. It’s rare, but sometimes the toxin can pass from mother to child during breastfeeding. Male-to-female sexual transmissions have been reported.
Cooking fish does not get rid of the ciguatoxin. Neither does gastric acid (or marinades of vinegar, lemons and limes), smoking, freezing, canning, salting or pickling. It’s difficult to see if a fish has the toxin because the toxin doesn’t affect the texture, taste or smell of a fish. Stay safe from CFP and do not eat the high-risk fish. For all reef fish, never eat the liver, intestines, roe and head—the highest concentrations of toxin have been found in these tissues. If CFP has been reported in your area, avoid or limit eating reef fish until the advisory has been lifted.
Eating certain shellfish that’s contaminated with naturally-occurring brevetoxins can cause NSP. Clams, mussels, oysters and scallops are filter feeders that can concentrate toxins. If harvested from areas with harmful algal blooms (HABs), they can be contaminated with the toxins. Your safest choice is to not harvest or eat these shellfish. NSP symptoms include: nausea and vomiting; tingling of the mouth, lips and tongue; and slurred speech and dizziness. Neurological symptoms can progress to partial paralysis and respiratory problems.
Cooking, heating or freezing shellfish does not get rid of the toxins. It’s hard to see if shellfish have the toxins because the toxins don’t affect the texture, taste or smell of shellfish. Do not harvest or eat shellfish from shellfish harvesting areas that are closed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Commercially available fish and shellfish, like from a grocery store or restaurant, are generally safe to eat.
The muscle of scallops harvested in areas where there are HABs is safe to eat. Scallop muscle is free of toxin, but the rest of the scallop is not. Other shellfish seafood such as crabs, lobsters and shrimp can be eaten because they are not affected. Do not eat the tomalley (green stuff, hepatopancreas).
PSP is caused by saxitoxin—a naturally-occurring marine toxin. In Florida, this toxin is usually found in puffer fish while in other areas of the U.S. the toxin has been found in shellfish such as clams.
Saxitoxin can cause serious illness. Five to thirty minutes after eating a contaminated puffer fish, there can be a tingling and numbness that spreads to your face and neck. The tingling and numbness can spread to your arms and legs. Other symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, rapid pain and kidney problems. You can have trouble breathing, swallowing and speaking. In very severe cases, paralysis can occur.
Cooking puffer fish does not get rid of the saxitoxin. It’s difficult to see if a puffer fish has the toxin because the toxin doesn’t affect the texture, taste or smell of the fish. You should avoid eating puffer fish.
Graphics courtesy of the Florida Department of Health