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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ciguatera. ‘Couda Ate It. Didn’t. Shoulda?

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Seaweed is what we’ve caught our second and fourth
times fishing; trolling off our sailboat in the Bahamas.
It bites when what bites is barracuda (‘couda) when trolling.  One the one hand, they’re tender, delicate and delicious.  On the other hand, these underwater bullies possess nasty looking sharp teeth and can carry ciguatera, a poison that builds up in the reefs, and becomes concentrated in reef predators.

After our awesome beginner’s luck in landing a huge dorado, we’ve caught seaweed and a 2 ½ foot barracouda. He cooperatively spit out the lure as soon as I landed him on our deck; Wayne said I flipped the ‘couda the same way I flip my deep skillet edge-to-edge pancakes. Keep it?  Not?

We’ve heard mixed reviews on what to do.

Some do / don’t guidelines are size related….Less than a meter?  Less than your forearm?  Less then 5 pounds?  Just one small serving?  Or just… never.

One oft-repeated local adage is “If the flies do land on it, it’s safe to eat.  If not, not.”  Even if I do buy that one, we’re typically far enough offshore for flies don’t join us for our meals.

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Barracuda, our second catch from the animal kingdom.  Less
showy than a dorado, and every bit as tasty, but
a potential ciguatera carrier.
My favorite safety strategy comes from a Bahamian story from Scott& Wendy Bannerot’s “The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing….”

…”an avid fisher and estate owner for years ‘generously’ donated a portion of his catch to the gardener, who always thanked him profusely and returned bright and early, and in glowing health, for work the next day.  The boss would then order a meal of his previous day’s catch and consume it without fear, until one occasion when he became extremely ill.  The gardener showed up for work the next morning in perfect health, causing the boss to exclaim, ‘I can’t believe that fish didn’t get you!’  The gardener replied with a laugh, ‘Mon, you tink I dat stupid?  All a dees yeahs, I nevah eat no fish ‘til afta you, boss!’”

What did we do?

I threw it back. 

Sadly, the few minutes it took me to decide were enough for the ‘couda to die, or at least, I’m guessing that belly up pose meant that normally predatory ‘couda was destined to hit the bottom link of the food chain.

A little later I opened up a can of tuna to make us tuna salad.  Compared to the potentially fresh delicious flesh of that ‘couda, it stunk – despite that I pride myself on making a darned fine tuna salad.  I really kicked myself for my unwillingness to risk a few morsels of my catch.

A few days ago in Georgetown, a native Bahamian historian joked us that he was disappointed his usual Nassau fish shack wasn’t serving his favorite, “’barry.”  Why not?  He asked.  “The cook got sick,” they told him.

What would you have done?

Almost as a taunt, that eve after we dropped anchor in Ruddy Cay, we kept hearing fish leap.  Wayne even dropped a line for the first time at anchor.  No luck, although a neighboring cruiser looked like he landed a couple fish – most likely jacks.


Did I jinx our fish karma?  Any suggestions on how best to unjinx would be most welcome!