Department of Environmental Management warns anglers to watch out for puffer fish

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management shares this photo of a Smooth Puffer Fish.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association are warning local anglers of the dangers of the smooth puffer fish.

The Department of Environmental Management said the fish present a serious threat to health because their organs and skin contain the deadly neurotoxins tetrodotoxin and saxitoxin.

The smooth puffer is usually entirely gray to olive-gray, is darker above than below, and its sides are silvery. It is also entirely unscaled except for its prickly stomach.

If an angler catches a smooth puffer, they are advised to remove it carefully from the hook and release it — and to not use it for chum or bait.

The toxins contained within the fish can’t be frozen or cooked out and have no known antidote.

The smooth puffer fish and the northern puffer fish. (Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management)

The smooth puffer fish has a large range in the western Atlantic Ocean, from New England and Bermuda to Argentina.

The DEM said the fish is more common in southern waters but they have received increased reports of it in local waters, and expect its appearance to become a more normal occurrence.

The department also advised anglers to watch out for the northern puffer fish, which is commonly found in state waters.

The club-shaped fish usually features black or dark green spots and saddles and a yellow to white belly, jet-black pepper spots scattered over most of its pigmented surface, and a row of black, elongate, bar-like markings on its lower body.

The DEM said the flesh of the northern puffer is not poisonous but some scientists believe there are low-level toxins in the skin and organs.

Anglers are advised to thoroughly clean the fish of all skin and viscera before eating.

Categories: News, Rhode Island