Champion fish came with a nasty catch

FISHING fans angling for a prize catch during prime mackerel season have been urged to heed health warnings after a group of locals suffered severe fish poisoning.

Nine people were hospitalised after eating fillets from a 25kg Spanish mackerel on Sunday and health authorities warn the contagion could be present in other species.

Scotts Head resident Peter Joyce said it was meant to be “just another day on the water”. He took his son Elliot and friend Sal Bartley fishing off Scotts Head to chase the king of mackerel.

Sal Bartley and Elliot Joyce with the monster 25kg mackerel, unaware it contained the ciguatera toxin

Sal Bartley and Elliot Joyce with the monster 25kg mackerel, unaware it contained the ciguatera toxin

“We were making our last pass over the reef before coming home as the fishing had been slow,” Peter told the Guardian. “We were chasing the big one with big baits, as fishermen are prone to do. 

“After a lengthy fight, Sal got the fish to the boat … the result was a bit of a surprise, during the fight there was plenty of speculation of sharks and cobia but the result was decent Spanish, it weighed 25kg – cleaned.”

With plenty of fillets, more than any family could hope to consume, they were happily shared around Scotts Head between neighbours and friends. 

Sunday evening revealed a less celebratory air about the place … the 25kg fish was carrying ciguatera, seven people were admitted to Macksville Hospital with the poisoning, and two in Kempsey.

“I have to say we feel very guilty having supplied a fish that has made so many people very ill,” Peter said. “My family was lucky we didn’t plan to it eat until Monday … it’s for the bin now.”

Peter said they caught a similar sized fish (around 23kg) a few years ago and ate it for weeks without incident. 

“I do think it is an issue that the fishing, and broader community now needs to be aware of,” he said.

“It’s impossible to tell as the fish looked, smelt and I’m guessing, ate, as if there was no problem. I’m confident the problem was not because of poor food handling as my post-catch handling was fine, bled straight away and on ice almost immediately in the boat then in the fridge within two hours of being caught.”

As of Tuesday, the patients still in hospital “looked pretty crook”.

“Hopefully this serves as a warning to others regarding the consumption of larger pelagic fish,” he said.

A Mid North Coast Local Health District spokesperson said six patients remain in Macksville Hospital in a stable condition.

“The patients ranging in age from 12 to 58, have been treated for symptoms consistent with ciguatera poisoning.”

The North Coast Public Health Unit has been informed of the situation.

Meanwhile recent outbreaks of ciguatera poisoning have forced a rethink of the rules regarding the sale of large pelagic fish on the North Coast.

It comes after the weekend incident at Scotts Heads, and the poisoning of four others at Evans Head last month.

The NSW Food Authority advises fishers to avoid eating Spanish mackerel which weigh more than 10kg (as advised by NSW industry experts), as there is an increased risk of ciguatera poisoning.

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