Every episode of Hook, Line & Dinner needs a theme, and tonight’s is danger. And no, the threat isn’t the poisonous lionfish or the large sharks I swam with. It’s the barracuda, and not because of their size and sharp teeth and penchant for chasing after swimmers.
Throughout the episode, I make light of the foodborne illness ciguatera. Tourists to the Bahamas are very concerned with it while the locals believe it’s just a bunch of hogwash. The illness is said to be carried by large “top-of-the-food-chain” fish that swim in warm water. Symptoms of ciguatera are nasty and can get very serious. It’s hard to diagnose and has become a debatable topic. It’s believed to start with toxic plankton that’s eaten by small fish who are in turn eaten by larger fish. Once you eat that big fish — bam. You’ve got ciguatera.
Ebi, who was my barracuda guide, laughed with a roar every time I brought up the subject. He says it’s easy to tell if a fish has ciguatera: Feed the fish to a cat; if the cat dies , don’t eat the fish. It worried me, then, that I hadn’t seen any cats on the island. When I mentioned that to Ebi, he just laughed again.
We ended up catching three barracuda and ate the largest. I thought, the bigger the fish, the greater the chances, but Ebi wanted to cook that one so I said nothing.
Fast-forward a month, and I am doing voiceovers in the studio. I hadn’t thought about ciguatera in weeks but had been to the doctor’s office three times since coming home. I just wasn’t feeling right. As I read through my voiceover lines, my producers started joking about the symptoms of ciguatera.
“Hold on, guys,” I said from the recording booth. “I just figured it out … I have f—ing ciguatera.”
And it was true. I ran down the list of my odd symptoms I had been having for weeks since my return. I returned to the same doctor and confirmed that I did indeed have the fabled illness of the tropics. Thankfully my case was mild and the symptoms went away.
I usually pride myself as someone who does as the locals do. But in this case, I became the lame tourist who will pass on the mainland legend: Ciguatera is real. Proceed with caution when you go fishing in the tropics.