Coastal Fisheries Programme


ciguatera_coverCiguatera field reference guide

by Dominique Laurent, Being Yeeting and Jean-Paul Gaudechoux


Ciguatera is a form of food poisoning caused by eating fish containing toxins called ciguatoxins which come from micro-algae living on coral reefs. Ciguatera is a significant public health issue in the Pacific and in all parts of the world where coral reefs are found. Over the past 20 years, several thousand cases of poisoning have been reported, but this number is certainly greatly underestimated. The negative publicity around these events often leads to a reduction of commerce in reef fish in island communities and also jeopardises reef fish exports (although this is probably not an entirely negative outcome given that several locally threatened reef fish species are endangered by the difficulty of controlling the export trade to ecologically sustainable levels).

Acknowledging the importance of this issue for Pacific Island communities, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Institute of Research for Development (IRD) have decided to jointly produce a field guide reviewing current knowledge on the matter.

Chapter 1 of this book is mainly drawn from a document produced by ORSTOM, now IRD, in 1993, which addressed the theoretical aspects of ciguatera and its consequences, highlighting the use of traditional remedies in the South Pacific. This first part has been updated to include new findings.

Chapter 2 explains how to assess and reduce the risk of ciguatera poisoning. It provides a practical guide to methods and logical steps for assessing and trying to manage the risk by introducing monitoring measures amongst other things.

It is hoped that this joint effort between the two organisations will enable fisheries managers in the region to better understand the causes of ciguatera fish poisoning and manage the problem, learning to live with the risk while reducing it to the absolute minimum.


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Table of contents



Foreword & Acknowledgements (pdf: )


Chapter 1: What is ciguatera? (pdf: )

 Recent understanding
Fish poisoning
Widespread phenomenon. . . A long history. . .
High incidence in the Pacific
The toxins
How the toxins work
Symptoms of ciguatera
Is there an effective treatment?
Can toxic fish be detected?
The difficulty of developing a test
What is an immunoassay?
New testsImmunological tests
Cell culture tests
Chemical analysis tests
What factors favour a ciguatera outbreak?
Dinoflagellates, a public health problem
Essential precautions



Chapter 2: Management of ciguatera (pdf: )

 Assessing the risk of ciguatera
Health questionnaire
Collecting traditional knowledge and historical information
Monitoring of reef areas
From risk assessment to management measures



References (pdf: )


Seafood poisoning report form
Local knowledge and background data survey questionnaire (pdf: )


The collection and processing of algae samples (pdf: )




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