Marine Toxins

A very wide variety of biotoxins occur with varying frequencies in fish, shellfish, mammals, reptiles, algae, and other animals and plants existing in the marine environment (1). Toxic organisms have been collected from most regions of the world, and many of them have caused illness in humans following ingestion. Ciguatera and scombroid poisoning together account for more than 80% of all seafood outbreaks and more than 50% of all outbreaks caused by the consumption of muscle protein with confirmed etiologies reported to the US Centers for Disease Control (2). This article emphasizes the similarities among the most frequently encountered or potentially encountered biotoxins in United States commercial fisheries, including imports. Significant differences between toxins or illnesses are also presented. Information is presented to assist in identifying major disorders and their circumstances. There are seven common and well characterized disorders— paralytic, neurotoxic, amnesic, and diarrhetic shellfish poisonings, ciguatera, scombroid poisoning, and pufferfish poisoning (poisonings or disorders refer to illnesses whereas toxins refer to specific chemical complexes) and these are summarized in Table 1. Three additional disorders that may increase in occurrence as international commerce of fishery products increases are briefly described at the end of the article: clupeotoxicity, hallucinogenic mullet poisoning, and shark liver poisoning.

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