Is it Safe to Eat Barracuda?

Barracuda is an oft caught fish in Costa Maya and can be really exciting due to their size and ferocity when they hit your line. They are also a really neat looking fish. But if you are like me, the fight that ensues when reeling in a creature from the deep blue is only a small portion of the excitement. I get REALLY excited when the fish that surfaces is not only big but something that I can feed to my friends and neighbors as I soak in the ooo’s and ahhh’s and tell the tall tale of how I landed the beasty leviathan.

Barracuda is a tough one and it seems that, like many things in life, there is no definitive and clear black and white answer to the question of whether or not they are safe to eat.  They are a predator fish and like most predators that are near the top of the food chain, they have a higher mercury content in their bodies than the fish they feed on. This alone puts then on the “consume less often” list along with Tuna, Swordfish, Grouper and Mackerel.

But they also can be infected with a toxin called ciguatera. Ciguatera is contracted from reef fish that consume it from contaminated coral, algae and seaweed and pass it up the food chain through biomagnification, the same process that the tops dogs get the mercury concentrations. Ciguatoxin is odorless and tasteless and cannot be cooked out of food with high heat. The symptoms of toxicity in humans include gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neurological effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches, numbness of the extremities, vertigo and hallucinations. The symptoms can last from weeks to years in some cases.

So with these two spooky possibilities lurking out there how do we know which of the fish are fine to eat and which will have us seeing little green men? Like we said earlier the world isn’t black and white so not all fish are going to be affected and you don’t want to miss out on a potentially tasty meal right? You would think someone would have come up with a good scientific test to see if your barracuda was poisonous but alas, all we have are good old folk tests like these to rely on…

One test is to cut off a piece of the flesh and lay it by an ant hill. If the ants eat it, it is fine to eat.

Another is to do the same with your cat. If your cat eats the flesh it should also be fine.

Another is to place a silver coin under the scales of the fish, an fish that is not good to eat would turn the coin black.

Some say not to eat a barracuda that is over 10 pounds because the bigger the fish, the older it is and the more other fish it has eaten.

And finally, some say not to eat barracuda during months that don’t have and “r” in the name. Basically May-August. Locals say this is the season where the barracuda dine on a particular seaweed to cleans their system and makes them more toxic to us.

So we may not have the most exact answer to the barracuda question but these folk tests have passed the test of time. I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on any one of them but I think that using them all together as a guide leaves you on the good side of safe. I have eaten barracuda and it is a lovely tasting fish. I would certainly hate for anyone else to lose out on it out of fear. Besides, what’s life without a little risk?