Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 98, Issue 3, pp 961–969 | Cite as

False positive tests for ciguatera may derail efforts to control invasive lionfish

  • Christie L. Wilcox
  • Mark A. Hixon


There has been a recent push for human consumption of the invasive Pacific lionfishes Pterois miles/volitans as a management strategy throughout the greater western tropical Atlantic region, where lionfish have become a significant ecological problem. Recent tests have indicated that invasive lionfishes may be ciguatoxic, threatening the viability of a fishery-based management strategy. However, if innate scorpaenitoxins in the flesh of lionfish are mimicking ciguatoxin, consumption may be safe after all. There have been no confirmed cases of ciguatoxin poisoning from eating lionfish, indicating that false positive tests may be occurring. Based on the high degree of similarity in the biochemical effects of ciguatoxin and scorpaenitoxins, it is possible that bioassays for ciguatoxin are inaccurate in scorpaeniform fishes. Preliminary results suggest that scorpaenitoxins or other venom components are capable of contaminating ciguatoxin assays, and thus we urge caution regarding interpretation of ciguatoxin assays in invasive lionfishes. We recommend that ciguatera tests of lionfish be done after cooking the flesh, which denatures the scorpaenitoxins yet leaves ciguatoxin intact.


Lionfish invasion Lionfish management Ciguatera tests Ciguatoxin Scorpaenitoxins 



We gratefully acknowledge the four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments that much improved the manuscript. CLW thanks Sigma Xi’s Grants-In-Aid of Research and Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Honolulu Chapter for their support. CLW also thanks K. Winkel and B. Fry for their contributions of SFAV, M. Gerschenson and D. Libutti for their advice and generous assistance in the laboratory, Discovery Diving in Beaufort, NC for their help in specimen collection, and Stumpy for his personal donations to this work. MAH thanks the National Science Foundation for supporting his lab’s research on the ecological effects of the lionfish invasion (08–51162 and 12–33027). This is contribution no. 1594 from the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, no. 9174 from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, and no. 2014-13 from the Department of Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. This study complied with current laws in the United States and was conducted in accordance with the regulations of the University of Hawai’i Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cell and Molecular BiologyUniversity of Hawai’i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Hawai’i Institute of Marine BiologyKāne’oheUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of Hawai’i at MānoaHonoluluUSA

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