Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Consumers of gourmet Fugu face new dangers, as climate change facilitates the rise of dangerous hybrid puffer fish.
Climate change has created a mutant pufferfish, a poisonous Japanese delicacy that can cost up to $120 per pound and sometimes kill a person in as little as a few hours
Mari Saito, Reuters Dec. 10, 2018, 10:18 AM
- The Japanese pufferfish, or fugu, is best known for its ability to kill a person in as little as a few hours.
- During the holiday season, a fishmonger in Tokyo can sell up to $88,000 worth of the fish on any given day.
- Though deaths are extremely rare, the danger associated with the fish contributes to its popularity.
- But climate change is adding a new element of risk: Fishers are discovering an unprecedented number of hybrid fugu, which are no more dangerous than your average lethal pufferfish but can be hard to distinguish from established species.
News of poisonings elicits fevered national coverage. When a supermarket in western Japan accidentally sold five packets of the fish without its poisonous liver removed in January, the town used its missile alert system to warn residents.
And now, climate change is adding a new element of risk: Fishers are discovering an unprecedented number of hybrid species in their catch as seas surrounding the archipelago — particularly off the northeastern coast — see some of the fastest rates of warming in the world.
With pufferfish heading north to seek cooler waters, sibling species of the fish have begun to interbreed, triggering a sudden increase in the number of hybrid fish.
Hybrids are no more dangerous than your average lethal pufferfish. The problem is that they can be hard to distinguish from established species.
Confusingly, the location of the deadly neurotoxin differs in certain types of pufferfish; it can sometimes be found in its skin or muscle, as well as its reproductive organs.
What they are saying its impossible to separate safe meat from toxic meat with a hybrid, because the parent species have toxins in different organs, and pass an unpredictable toxin map to their offspring.
Unusually this is a climate problem which has a simple solution. Stop eating deadly toxic fish!