‘Hallucination’ fish netted in Channel
Mediterranean Sarpa salpa, said to cause LSD-like effects, turns up off Cornwall
Steven MorrisÂ |Â guardian.co.ukÂ |Â Wednesday 13 May 2009
A fish that has been reported to cause LSD-like hallucinations when eaten has been found in the Channel, many hundreds of miles away from its normal habitat.
The fish, Sarpa salpa, is commonly caught off the coast of South Africa and in the Mediterranean but turned up in the nets of Cornish fisherman Andy Giles.
Sarpa salpa is a popular dish in Mediterranean restaurants but cases of it supposedly causing hallucinations have been reported.
Giles, who caught the fish six miles off Polperro in south Cornwall, said: “We were trawling for lemon sole and hauled up the net at the end of the day and almost immediately saw this striped fish. We didn’t have a clue what it was. I put it in the fish box and brought it back for experts to have a look at it.”
James Wright, a senior biologist at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, said: “These are a fairly common fish off Tenerife, Malta and Cyprus but it is very rare to get them this far north. It could be a single fish that was shoaling with a different species but it could be that there are more of them in our waters.”
In 2006 two men, one aged 90, were taken to hospital in the south of France after eating Sarpa salpa. The elderly man is said to have suffered from auditory hallucinations a few hours after eating the fish, followed by a series of nightmares over the next two nights.
The younger man, aged 40, endured similar effects, which took 36 hours to disappear.
Oliver Crimmen, fish curator at the Natural History Museum, said it was rare to get such poisoning from Sarpa salpa.
The hallucinatory properties are believed to come from plankton eaten by the fish. Crimmen said: “Plankton has very minute amounts of poison in and fish that eat a great deal of it can develop this poisoning. Sarpa salpa are a popular fish in the Mediterranean and I think the 2006 incident was a rare event.”