PUSAT KAJIAN SAMUDERA & PANTAI -- Universiti Sains Malaysia

Once gutted and scaled, hard to tell if it is pufferfish, says expert

A file picture of a pufferfish. – George Parrilla/Mactan Aquarium, Basak, Lapulapu City

GEORGE TOWN: After a pufferfish is gutted and descaled, it is indistinguishable from other types of fish, says Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (Cemacs) director Prof Datuk Dr Aileen Tan.

"The public would not know if it is a pufferfish unless it is alive and puffs up.

"Once it is cut you really do not know what fish you are purchasing. Unless you slice and cut the fish yourself, you cannot tell many fish apart unless you're an expert. 

"Basically, fish cut into slices all look alike unless you ask the fishmonger and he is honest about what you are purchasing," she said.

Prof Tan said a marine biologist would be able to recognise the fish when spotted in the water.

"For a fishmonger I would not know," she said.

The 83-year-old woman, who passed away after consuming some puffer fish or ikan buntal, and her husband actually had no idea they were eating something that contained deadly toxins.The 83-year-old woman, who passed away after consuming some puffer fish or ikan buntal, and her husband actually had no idea they were eating something that contained deadly toxins.

She said she could not assume they would be aware but one who had been in the business long enough should be able to.

"It is known that pufferfish are commonly found in Malaysian waters... It is not a rare species," she said.

Prof Tan said in Japan, chefs who prepare pufferfish for consumption have a special licence.

"This shows they know how to remove the parts of the fish that have deadly toxins," she said.

She added fishmongers may know which parts to remove while cleaning pufferfish but if the toxic parts were to burst or are exposed to other parts of the meat, the entire fish must be discarded.

"If they do not realise other parts have been exposed (contaminated) then it is a problem," she said.

Prof Tan said the only way to deal with the issue is to create awareness and have proper enforcement.

"There must be regulations in place when it comes to selling pufferfish. It is important to have clear laws.

"This way they (fishmongers) will be wary about selling pufferfish," she said.

An elderly couple in Johor died after consuming the deadly pufferfish recently.

Ng Chuan Sing @ Eng Kuai Sin, 84, and his wife Lim Siew Guan, 83, consumed the fish they bought from a trader on March 25, unaware that it was the deadly pufferfish.

The couple began experiencing breathing difficulties after eating it.

Several hours later, Lim died while Ng went into a coma and died a few days later.

Source: TheStar

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