PETALING JAYA • Unscrupulous fishmongers and fishing trawler operators in Malaysia are taking advantage of escalating fish prices to push potentially lethal pufferfish fillet into the market.
Hundreds of kilogrammes of the fish are taken back to shore to be sold in wet markets in Penang, Kedah and Perak as "crystal fish" after they have been filleted.
The fillet is reportedly being sold at RM18 (S$5.80) to RM20 per kg.
The Malaysian health ministry has said it is coming up with a regulation to make the sale of pufferfish illegal unless its toxins have been removed first through proper gutting.
Pufferfish are known to be poisonous to humans as they contain tetrodotoxin, a substance toxic enough to kill a person in a few hours when ingested in amounts of as little as 25mg.
From 1985 to 2014, the health ministry has recorded 55 cases of pufferfish poisoning and 17 tetrodotoxin- related deaths.
In the northern states, pufferfish fillet is offered at eateries as "fried fish meat", and as a component of appetisers in Chinese wedding banquets at hotels and restaurants, particularly in Penang.
A source told The Star pufferfish fillet could be half the price of alternatives. The source said: "Hawkers and restaurant owners used to use Spanish mackerel (tenggiri) and grouper fillets, but their prices have risen tremendously over the last two years.
"By turning to pufferfish fillet, hawkers and restaurant owners are able to reduce their costs by half."
A Penang fishmonger operating in the Batu Lanchang market said the fillet was a hot item as it was delicious when fried.
"I have been selling this for the past few months, and nobody has fallen sick or died," he said. "Therefore, I think it's safe to eat."
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK