Ciguatera information

 What is Ciguatera?

            Ciguatera is a poisoning caused by ingesting fish contaminated with ciguatoxin characterized by gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms. According to the National Food Safety Database, initial gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, cramping and vomiting. These are typically followed by neurological discomforts which may include headaches, flushing, muscular aching and weakness, tingling and numbing sensation of the lips, tongue and mouth, dizziness, myalgia, and arthralgia (Otwell, 1999). In the more severe cases, temperature reversals have been reported and the symptoms may last anywhere from a few days to years. Locals typically claim that “once you get fish poisoned, you always have it” as reoccurrence of some symptoms is common, particularly after alcohol consumption or eating of ciguatoxic fish (that would normally not have affected humans).

How do you recognise a fish with Ciguatera?

            There are no ‘tell tale’ signs that let a person know that a fish is affected with the toxin. Visually, the flesh and colouration of the scales appears the same. There is no variation or change in the smell or even the taste of the fish.

            Commercially there are no tests that have been validated for the use of detecting the toxin in fishes, though research to create test kits that are both efficient and cost effect are in development.

What is the status of Ciguatera in the B.V.Is?

            Though all fish that participate in a food chain containing ciguatoxin has the potential to acquire it, some are more prone to do so than others. There are 95 such known fish species in the British Virgin Islands. Some, like the barracuda, are more notable in their ability to do so. On the whole, fishes that carry the ciguatoxin tend to be located on the south side of the islands.

            It is important to note that having the ability to acquire the toxin does not mean that any or all members of the specie will do so, or that the levels will be of a significant amount to be harmful to humans.

What is done in way of Prevention?

In the BVI, there is no official monitoring program for ciguatera. As is the case in many places, the local fishermen know of the locations prone to ciguatera and do not acquire fish in those regions. As a result it is in the best interest of individuals that are unaware of the fishing practices in the BVI to acquire all the fishes that they consume from reputable businesses, and/or commercial fishermen.

Reporting Cases

            If a person does succumb to ciguatera, after seeking treatment at the nearest medical facility the case should be reported. Reporting cases of ciguatera poisoning to the Department of Environment and Fisheries helps to create more realistic and precise data reports of the cases of ciguatera in the BVI. This in turn allows for better management of the fishes and creates opportunities to decrease and/or avoid similar occurrences in the future.

            When reporting a case of ciguatera to the department persons should be ready to inform the department of certain information, namely:

  • Name of affected party
  • Type of fish eaten
  • How the fish was acquired
  • Do you know of any other individuals that consumed the fish?


Species with Reports of Ciguatera Poisoning

Common Species Throughout the British Virgin Islands

Species Name

Common Name


Acanthurus bahianus

Ocean Surgeon

Ciguatera is a poisoning caused by ingesting fish contaminated with ciguatoxin, characterized by gastrointestinal and neurological symptom, including profound weakness, temperature sensation changes, pain, and numbness in the extremities

Acanthurus chirugus


Acanthurus coerulus

Blue Tang

Albula vulpes


Alphestes afer

Mutton Hamlet

Aluterus monoceros

Unicorn Filefish

Alterus schoepfi

Orange Filefish

Alterus scriptus

Scrawled Filefish

Anisotremus surinamensis

Black Margate


Anisotremus virginicus


~ Throughout the BVI contaminated fishes are typically found along the southern side of the islands.

Apsilus dentatus

Black Snapper

Balistes vetula

Queen Triggerfish

Bodianus rufus

Spanish Hogfish


Calamus calamus

Saucereye Porgy

~ It is important to note that while the listed species may be found throughout the region, it is only those that dwell and are thus caught on the southern side that should cause alarm if ingested.

Caranx crysos

Blue Runner

Caranx hippos

Crevalle Jack

Caranx latus

Horseye Jack

Caranx lugubris

Black Jack

Coryphaena hippurus



Decapterus macarellus

Mackerel Scad

~Areas to highlight are:

Elagatis bipinnulata

Rainbow Runner


Epinephelus adscensionis

Rock Hind

1) Copper Mine Point, Virgin Gorda

Epinephelus guttatus

Red Hind

     Areas surrounding this region are noted for contaminated fish, and local fishermen will not venture to fish here.

Epinephelus morio

Red Grouper

Epinephelus striatus

Nassau Grouper

Ginglymostoma cirratum

Nurse Shark


Gymnothorax moringa

Spotted Moray

2) Wreck of the Rhone, Salt Island

Haemulon album


     This vessel which sunk just off of Lee Bay is now scattered westerly to just north of Peter Island. Fishes closely related to this site are also notably dangerous to consume.

Haemulon bonariense

Black Grunt

Haemulon flavolineatum

French Grunt

Haemulon melanurum


Haemulon plumieri

White Grunt

Haemulon sciurus

Blue-striped Grunt


Holacanthus ciliaris

Queen Angel

~ Ciguatera is rarely fatal!

Holacanthus tricolor

Rock Beauty


Lachnolaimus maximus



Lutjanus analis

Mutton Snapper


Lutjanus campechanus

Red Snapper


Lutjanus jocu

Dog Snapper


Lutjanus mahogoni

Mahogany Snapper


Lutjanus synagris

Lane Snapper


Ocyurus chrysurus

Yellowtail Snapper


Pomacanthus paru

French Angelfish


Pristipomoides aquilonaris

Wenchman Snapper


Scarus guacamaia

Rainbow Parrotfish


Scarus taeniopterus

Princess Parrotfish


Scarus vetula

Queen Parrotfish


Scomberomorus cavalla

King Mackerel


Scomberomorus maculatus

Spanish Mackerel


Scomberomorus regalis



Sparisoma aurofrenatum

Redband Parrotfish


Sparisoma chrysopterum

Redtail Parrotfish


Sparisoma rubripinne

Yellowtail Parrotfish


Sparisoma viride

Spotlight Parrotfish


Sphyraena barracuda