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Posted on May 7, 2007 in Top Shots
Fear Over Ciguatera

As I put together the news pages for SF's July/August issue, I'm struck with an interesting ethical matter. It would seem that the first case of ciguatera poisoining to hit the Texas coast in years has struck in the form of a 34-pound infected grouper taken at the famed Flower Gardens offshore bank. A report on the incident apparently made the front page of a Sunday issue of the Galveston Daily News in April, shortly after the angler and his wife were diagnosed with ciguatera poisoning.

The toxin that causes this illness - seldom life-threatening but often miserably debilitating for weeks or even months - can be neither tasted nor cooked out. As the story in the Galveston paper, by reporter Mark Collette, made clear, ciguatera generally infects larger predators; typically fish under 5 pounds are considered safe.

Collette also pointed out that only a few labs in the country offer reliable testing for ciguatera and only such a test (now underway at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration laboratory at Dauphin Island, Alabama) and until such a test is done on the grouper meat, the diagnosis of ciguatera is based on symptoms. Those symptoms - including the classic hot and cold reversal (e.g. ice cubes feel hot to the touch) that the angler reports having - seem to leave little doubt among experts that ciguatera is the cause.

Should the Daily News have waited for test results and a diagnosis of 100-percent certainty to report the poisoning?

That's exactly what a number of online responses to reporter Collette's blog had to say. Some made clear their profession as restaurateurs or connection to the seafood industry; their livelihood-based concerns are understandable. And they raise that interesting question.

As above, should the paper have waited? Did it act irresponsibly by reporting ciguatera poisoning when it was likely but not certain? Might it be promulgating a widespread but unjustified fear of eating any local seafood?

Or is it the paper's obligation to report what might be a situation that could threaten other anglers and inform them of the disease and what that entails?

What do you think? And why?

I'll be watching for some interesting responses, perhaps both ways. Me? Well -- I'm going back to work on the news item for Sport Fishing magazine!

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