Puffer fish are somewhat strange looking fish, with two large teeth in each jaw, forming a beak. They have slimy sandpaper like skin with small nodules on it. If the fish is disturbed, it gulps water rapidly, increasing its size enormously, and causing the nodules on the skin to protrude giving it a coarse feeling. If you handle the puffer for some time, you will feel your hand tingling after a while.The ovaries and liver of some species of puffer fish contain a very powerful poison called tetrodotoxin. These fish are considered a gourmet delicacy in Japan, and chefs there have to take special training in preparing it. There are many cases of death because of consuming Fugu in Japan and neighboring countries, such as Puffer fish poisoning in the Philippines and Center for Disease Control (CDC): Tetrodotoxin Poisoning Associated With Eating Puffer Fish Transported from Japan -- California, 1996.In the Red Sea, there are three common species of puffers:
- White Spotted Puffer fish is the most commonly seen, medium sized, listed as poisonous to eat.
- Starry (or Stellated) Puffer fish which is the largest of the three, and also listed as poisonous to eat.
- Masked Puffer fish is smaller than the
In the Red Sea, puffer fish do not appear to be toxic at all. I can attest to that fact from personal experience, because I have eaten two of the three common species that inhabit the Red Sea myself on many occasions. It was funny reading Peter Vine's Red Sea Safety book, in which the puffer was mentioned as poisonous and dangerous, after a meal that had fried puffer in it!My own conclusion is that the locality has an effect on the fish being poisonous or not. There has to be something in the diet of the fish that makes it develop this toxin in its tissues. Either that, or it is the ovaries and liver that are toxic, and because we never consumed them, we were not in any danger.I was introduced to this by two Lebanese friends who have been catching the puffers and eating them for years. The flesh of the fish is good. It has no bones at all, since the it has no "fish bones" but rather boney plates that are fused to the spine. In preparing the fish, the skin, all the viscera, and the head are discarded. Skinning the fish yourself can cause you to be averse to eating it (like what happened to me later). Only the flesh around the spine is used. It is good fried in batter, or baked in the oven.I carry a scar on my upper chest because a puffer bit me once, after I speared it. This was one nasty bite by the powerful and sharp beak, and caused me to yell out of pain in the snorkel. The wound was red, itchy and elevated a bit for months. I had to take corticosteroid local injections twice to make it better.