Ooh, Barracuda!

Ben Sargent

Every episode of Hook, Line & Dinner needs a theme, and tonight’s is danger. And no, the threat isn’t the poisonous lionfish or the large sharks I swam with. It’s the barracuda, and not because of their size and sharp teeth and penchant for chasing after swimmers.

Throughout the episode, I make light of the foodborne illness ciguatera. Tourists to the Bahamas are very concerned with it while the locals believe it’s just a bunch of hogwash. The illness is said to be carried by large “top-of-the-food-chain” fish that swim in warm water. Symptoms of ciguatera are nasty and can get very serious. It’s hard to diagnose and has become a debatable topic. It’s believed to start with toxic plankton that’s eaten by small fish who are in turn eaten by larger fish. Once you eat that big fish — bam. You’ve got ciguatera.

Ebi, who was my barracuda guide, laughed with a roar every time I brought up the subject. He says it’s easy to tell if a fish has ciguatera: Feed the fish to a cat; if the cat dies , don’t eat the fish. It worried me, then, that I hadn’t seen any cats on the island. When I mentioned that to Ebi, he just laughed again.

We ended up catching three barracuda and ate the largest. I thought, the bigger the fish, the greater the chances, but Ebi wanted to cook that one so I said nothing.

Fast-forward a month, and I am doing voiceovers in the studio. I hadn’t thought about ciguatera in weeks but had been to the doctor’s office three times since coming home. I just wasn’t feeling right. As I read through my voiceover lines, my producers started joking about the symptoms of ciguatera.

“Hold on, guys,” I said from the recording booth. “I just figured it out … I have f—ing ciguatera.”

And it was true. I ran down the list of my odd symptoms I had been having for weeks since my return. I returned to the same doctor and confirmed that I did indeed have the fabled illness of the tropics. Thankfully my case was mild and the symptoms went away.

I usually pride myself as someone who does as the locals do. But in this case, I became the lame tourist who will pass on the mainland legend: Ciguatera is real. Proceed with caution when you go fishing in the tropics.

Tune into Hook, Line & Dinner tonight at 8pm ET as I explore Bimini in the Bahamas.

Next Up

The Illusive, Invasive and Infamous Snakehead Fish

Ben Sargent makes it his mission to track down a snakehead fish on Cooking Channel's Hook, Line & Dinner. Find out more about this invasive species here.

The Sport Fishing Capital of the World

Tune in to Cooking Channel to catch Hook, Line & Dinner with host Ben Sargent as he travels to Islamorada, Florida for some serious fishing.

My Quest to Hook a Tyee

Ben Sargent heads to Canada in this week's Hook, Line & Dinner to hook a Tyee fish.

Fishing (and Surfing) in The Big Apple

Ben Sargent, host of Cooking Channel's Hook, Line & Dinner, heads to Brooklyn, N.Y., to explore the robust fishing scene in the Big Apple.

Five Generations of Crabbing in Smith Island, Maryland

This week on Hook, Line & Dinner, Ben Sargent gets a lesson from the Marshall family's fifth-generation crabbing business on Smith Island, Maryland.

So Much Pretty Food Here