Rhode Island DEM Warns Anglers of Toxic Smooth Puffer Fish

How to identify and safely handle a toxic smooth puffer fish.

(Above) A toxic smooth puffer fish is easily distinguishable when compared to the more colorful northern puffer fish. (photo courtesy of Absecon Bay Sportsman)

Between New Jersey and New England, anglers who favor bottom fishing during the summer will likely come across the often tiny, but tasty northern puffer fish. The northern puffer is a small, yellow inshore fish with black markings that allows it to blend into rocks and coral. They use their minuscule beak-like mouth to crunch down on small crustaceans, and they are notorious for narrowly avoiding hooks; you’ve likely had them steal the tails off your Gulp. These little blowfish are delicious and relatively easy to catch. However, more recently in Rhode Island, recreational anglers are catching a toxic species of puffer fish more frequently. Smooth puffer fish are highly toxic to humans and are easily distinguished from northern puffers with a few key features. Here’s how to identify them, and how to handle catching one:

Smooth Puffer Fish (toxic)

Smooth puffers are typically a gray or olive-green color, and like northern puffers, they inflate when threatened or afraid. They have no scales on their body which gives them a sleek and smooth, almost shiny appearance. If you catch a smooth puffer fish, do not handle it with bare hands; its internal organs and even its skin contain toxins that are detrimental to our central nervous system and can cause severe illness or death. Be sure to keep a glove or rag on hand to safely handle them for release, and if possible, don’t touch the fish at all. Quickly return them to the water, and do not use them for chum or bait.

It’s also smart to document the catch. In the interest of personal safety, taking measurements is not necessary, but do take photographs to note where, when and how the fish was caught and released, as it can be of use to others for research purposes.

Although it is said that the smooth puffer can be cooked and eaten when prepared properly, they should not be handled by anyone besides a chef trained specifically in how to do so. The old adage goes: “We all want what we can’t have”, but in this case, let’s be honest… is it really worth the risk?

4 on “Rhode Island DEM Warns Anglers of Toxic Smooth Puffer Fish

  1. Russell Hirsch

    A riveting novel, “The Havana Room” by Colin Harrison, features this toxic fish. A great read.

  2. Bubba

    No pictures of the pufferfish side by side to help your readers try and identify the differences.

    Just a lazily written article warning us of a toxic fish look alike. Sweet

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