ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines— “Puffer fish toxin is 100 percent more potent than cyanide.”
This was the warning issued by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources following the death of two fishermen who had dined on puffer fish, locally called “butete”, on Wednesday.
According to a police report, Randy Algodon, 32, and Rodrigo Pioquinto, 53, ate puffer fish for dinner on Wednesday. Two hours later, they started vomiting and were rushed to a small hospital and then to the Zamboanga City Medical Center where they expired.
Asis Perez, BFAR national director, said the death of the two fishermen here on Wednesday underlined the fact people continue eating puffer fish although they know doing so could be fatal.
“Puffer fish contains toxins that are more potent than cyanide,” Perez told the Inquirer by phone.
He said that in Bicol, dried puffer fish is even sold in the markets despite a crackdown by the authorities.
“We have been issuing warnings and advisories and even conducted confiscations of dried puffer fish in Bicol and some other areas because butete is very poisonous,” Perez said.
He said the BFAR has also monitored deaths in Quezon from puffer fish consumption.
“The number of deaths is growing and we need to remind our folks that it is very dangerous to eat butete, even dried ones,” Perez said.
Rosella Contreras, head of the Fish Inspection and Quarantine Services of BFAR in Western Mindanao, told the Inquirer that puffer fish is a delicacy in some communities despite the risks associated with it.
She said Badjaos, a sea-faring tribe in Mindanao, are known to feast on puffer fish.
“They know how to remove the toxin. Only the Badjaos are expert in this,” Contreras said.
In Japan, puffer fish, which is known there as fugu, is also a delicacy and chefs would make sashimi out of its meat. But only certified fugu chefs are allowed to prepare the fish for consumption.
Francisco Cadiz Jr., chief of the BFAR’s information office in Western Mindanao, said puffer fish discharges a toxin as soon as it is caught.
“The fish excretes toxin as defense mechanism and it is very poisonous,” Contreras said.
Science journals list puffer fish, which belongs to the tetraodontidae family, as the second most poisonous vertebrate after the golden poison frog.