The Assistant Director, Fisheries of the Federal Capital Territory Administration’s Department of Fishery, Jonah Dabit, has warned Nigerians to be wary of the danger of consuming a lethal fish animal group called the pufferfish.
Mr Dabit, disclosed this in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Monday.
Pufferfish, commonly known as fugu in Japan, is found in tropical and subtropical ocean waters, but some species live in fresh and brackish water.
It belongs to the family of Tetraodontidae, with many species which are variously called pufferfish – toadfish, globefish, blowfish, balloon fish, bubble fish, swellfish, toadies, sea squab, sugar toads and honey toads.
Report has it that there are more than 120 species of pufferfish worldwide.
Majority of these species are toxic, and some are among the most poisonous vertebrates in the world.
In certain species, the internal organs such as the liver, intestines and sometimes the skin contain tetrodotoxin which is highly poisonous when eaten.
It has also been isolated from other species including California newt, starfish, blue-ringed octopus, goby, parrotfish, angelfish, xanthid crabs and shellfish.
It has been reported that tetrodotoxin does not cross the blood-brain barrier, hence, people with tetrodotoxin poisoning remain conscious while their central nervous system gradually shuts down.
Symptoms such as numbness in the face, mouth and tongue develop within 30 minutes to six hours of ingestion.
The victim begins to experience headaches, nausea, slurred speech, diarrhoea and vomiting, as well as muscle weakness.
The rest of the body gradually becomes paralysed, causing death, when the heart and lung muscles are also paralysed.
In recent years, there has been a report of fatalities associated with the consumption of pufferfish.
In 2015, PREMIUM TIMES reported how two people died in Ezillo community of Ebonyi State after eating poisonous fish.
In China, pufferfish poisoning affected 131 people from 2004 to 2007 and 35 deaths were reported.
In Taiwan, from 1992 to 2012, 128 people were affected and 11 died.
Two people were affected in Chicago in 2007. The fish, bought in Chicago, was labelled as monkfish.
In 2008, inland populations in Bangladesh reportedly purchased unknowingly cheap pufferfish at local markets, which gave rise to three outbreaks with 141 cases and 17 deaths.
A similar outbreak occurred in Khulna, involving 37 cases with eight fatalities in 2002.
In 2016, five people in an inland community in Sylhet died from eating pufferfish.
In the U.S., a case of tetrodotoxin poisoning, related to pufferfish, was reported in Virginia in 2014 and two also occurred in Minneapolis in the same year.
Pufferfish is a popular traditional dish in Japan. It is the most common natural marine toxin causing food poisoning in the country. In 2009, there were 50 cases but no deaths.
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Dabit, said, “This fish is so deadly and poisonous. It’s mostly seen in Asia countries.”
According to him, some people still eat pufferfish around the world, despite having such deadly venom.
‘’Surprisingly, the meat of some pufferfish is considered a delicacy, especially in Japan and (it) is only specialised chefs that are licensed to even prepare it.
“Because of the high risk, chefs must undergo two to three years of training to obtain a fugu preparing license,” he said.
Mr Dabit said the fish can also be found in Nigeria. “Yes, they are found everywhere in this country.
“You know Lagos is close to the ocean, that is a marine environment. It is also found in places like Abuja and other places in the North and in the South.
“You can get them there, if you interview the fisherman there they will tell you that yes the fish is common there and even in the North here people that live around the riverine area like Lokoja, Adamawa, Taraba even in Kebbi and places like Niger, they will tell you they know about the fish very well and they are aware that it is poisonous,” he said.
“A family ate pufferfish in Ghana, all of them were rushed to the hospital. Three out of the five people in that family lost their life.
“That led the ministry of health of Ghana to notify our federal ministry of health and because FCT is a seat of government, the Minister of Health wrote to the Minister of (the) Federal Capital Territory to ensure that such a case is not found in the FCT.
“That is why we have to go on a campaign to create awareness. We went from market to market and only populated places and restaurants to show them how the fish looks like, because it contains a toxin so deadly. The toxin is called tetrodotoxin and it is about 1200 times more poisonous than cyanide,” he said.
“Creating awareness is to discourage people from eating it because they will not know how to prepare it.
“It is not that it cannot be eaten but the poison is so deadly we just want to discourage people from eating it.
“Studies have shown that the toxin in one pufferfish is enough to kill 30 adults in a very short time and then there is no antidote for it. That is even the worse thing. No antidote,” he said.
“In Abuja, people do bring in the fish from outside.
“Some years back, when we were going around on inspection, we saw it in Kado fish market in Abuja we warned them and since that time we’ve not seen it again and we’ve not heard of it again. Not until now that we got this letter from the head of service to the minister of FCT that we should make sure that people are aware of this deadly fish,” he said.
“When we were going around I was asking people and some of them said hunters use the poison as an arrow, they suck the arrow inside the skin of the fish and when they shoot an animal it cannot run more than 10 minutes and then the poison will make it fall down.
‘’We thank God that most of the people we met, especially those ones that came from the riverine area, are aware of this fish,’’ he said.
Also speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, Oyesola Peter, a graduate of aquaculture and fisheries management, said people should “Desist from eating pufferfish, it is deadly.”
“Nigeria is a maritime state where nine of the 36 states have a coastline in the Atlantic Ocean.
“The coastal states of Nigeria are Ogun, Ondo, Bayelsa, Lagos, Edo Delta, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states found in the southern part of the country.
“Recently, it was rumoured that pufferfish were being sold in some markets of Lagos State,” he said.
He further advised the country to know the risk and dangers of consuming this fish.
“Hence, Nigeria’s are hereby advised to know the dangers involved in consuming this fish.
“The poison paralyzes the muscles while the victim stays fully conscious.
“The poisoned victim is unable to breathe and eventually dies from asphyxiation, a condition of the deficient supply of oxygen to the body that arises from abnormal breathing.
“This toxin is heat stable, cannot be destroyed by cooking and has no antidote to date,” he said.
In a bid to prevent tetrodotoxin related food poisoning, he urged Nigerians to pay attention to the type of fish they eat.
“Nigerians should pay attention to the type of fish and fish products available in the markets, to ensure they are safe for consumption.
“The public is hereby advised not to consume pufferfish,” he said.