By: Paul W. Wittmer
This first appeared in The Tinosa Blatt, August 1980

For some time I have had some doubts about the existence of a fish named Tinosa; it simply is not listed in many of the usual reference works. I had heard that this creature was a poisonous fish. As luck would have it, I stumbled on three massive volumes in one of the larger libraries. The reference for the following tidbits of ichthyological literature research is "Poisonous and Venomous Marine Animals of the World", Bruce W. Halstead, M.D., Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 65-60000, U. S. Government Printing Office, Vol. 1, 1965; Vol. 2, 1967; Vol. 3. 1970.

The search started with the fish named Tinosa.

As with most species that range over vast regions of the world, a particular creature will be known by many different names depending upon the locality and the language. To reduce the confusion, classifications and scientific names are established. (More on this later). Some background information may be of interest to show the origin (language basis) for the name Tinosa.

Early voyagers had reported cases of poisoning as a result of eating various salt-water fishes. One prevalent and particular type of poisoning was known as the Ciguatera Syndrome. This was described by a Portuguese biologist, Don Antonio Parra (ca. 1771) in his publication printed in Havana, Cuba in 1787. The Cuban authors often substituted "a" for "c" in Spanish; as a result, the type of poisoning came out as "Siguatera".

One of the most important publications of this period concerning the problem of Ciguatera poisoning is by the Cuban naturalist, Felipe Poey y Aloy (1799-1891). Poey provides one of the earliest reports regarding the establishment of quarantine regulations governing the sale of potentially toxic fishes. Poey's list includes among others, Carangus Lugubrus. Since 1842, public health regulations prohibiting the sale of poisonous fishes have been in existence in Cuba Leading the list in the Absolutely Prohibited category is Tino's Prieta; the scientific names given are Caranx Lugubris, also known as Caranx Frontalis or Caranx Ascensionis. (Tinos is Spanish for "Tinosa".)

During WWII, poisonous fishes were frequently a problem to the military. A directive, Order Number 14-45 (U.S.N.) listed twelve fish as poisonous at Saipan. Local governments in a number of tropical regions have issued similar restrictive orders. The tropical Pacific Islands and the West Indies represent the greatest number of incidences of Ciguatoxic fishes.

Checking further through these volumes, it is noted that this Tinosa fish is listed in the class of Osteichthyes and defined in the family of Carangidae (jacks, scads, pompanos). More specifically, Caranx Lugubris is known to be distributed through the tropical waters around the world. The more common names for Caranx Lugubris are: Jack, crevalle (U.S.A.), white ulna (Hawaii), lupe (Samoa), paruku (Tuamotus), teaonga, tekuane (Gilbert Islands), saga (Fiji), laue (Marshall Islands), talakitok, momsa, atoloy (Philippines), cavalla, cavalho, cocinero (Latin America), kingfish, cavally (South Africa) sante, tanet, cabolla, bouebouesina, cotro, ogombo, gaoua (West Africa).

Ciguatera fish poisoning appears to present a most serious marine intoxicant problem in the tropical Pacific, primarily due to its widespread occurrence and the multiplicity of highly esteemed food fishes which may harbor the poison. The same species may be toxic in one narrow area and nontoxic in an adjacent one, or nontoxic one year but then becoming toxic the next year.

Moreover, as the toxin is not water soluble, it cannot be removed from the flesh by washing or leaching in water. There is no ordinary method of preparation to render the fish fit to eat.

The method of how a variety of fishes can acquire toxins is based on the Algal Food Chain Theory. Fish feed on certain vegetable matter and pick up toxins. Other (larger) fish eat the herbivore fish and acquire toxins. A filamentous blue-green alga Lyngbya Majuscule is one of the suspected sources of Ciguatura poisons in fish.

The search for a description and a picture of a Tinosa fish represents one of those trivia curosity items that had bothered me from time-to-time. I'm glad that's over; let's see what good, if any, can come from this nonsense. For example, one paragraph may keep some people out of trouble should they find themselves in an embarrassing situation. The paragraph is repeated here:

Caranx Lugubris Poey

"If a person is faced with a survival situation, there are several fundamental points that should be kept in mind. Never eat the viscera, i.e., liver, gonads, intestines, etc. of tropical marine fishes under any circumstances. The roe of most tropical fishes is potentially dangerous and should always be eliminated."

Unusually large predacious reef fishes such as snapper, barracuda, grouper and Jack should not be eaten. They are most likely to be dangerous during the reproductive season as is evidenced by a distended belly filled with large ripe roe or testes. Ordinary cooking procedures such as baking, frying or drying do not render a toxic fish safe to eat. Boiling the fish and discarding the water several times may be helpful but cannot be completely relied upon. Some poisons are water-soluble and others are not. If it is impossible to boil the fish, then cut it into small strips, let them soak in several changes of seawater for at least 30 minutes and squeeze out as much of the juice as possible. This procedure does not guarantee safe eating, but you may have no other choice. Eat only small amounts of an unknown variety of any tropical fish. Tropical moray eels should never be eaten.

Some species of tropical moray eels are violently toxic and may produce convulsions and quick death. If at all possible, try to capture open water fishes rather than those near a reef or near the entrance to a lagoon. If natives are available, ask their advice about eating reef fishes. Certainly the native population is your best source of local advice if you are stranded on a remote tropical island.

This information is a little late for us old-timers; but it just might be nice for some young fellow to have this trivia tucked away in his noggin.

From The International Oceanographic Foundation, "Also known as Black Jack, Brown Jack. Uniformly brown or black in color. Grows to about 3 feet 3 inches, (four feet in Hawaii and weighs about 15.5 pounds. The larger fish may be more poisonous. Usually a deep-water species, but does come to the surface to scramble for ships garbage. May also be known as Caranx le Garbage".