PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Unscrupulous fishmongers and fishing trawler operators are taking advantage of the escalating fish prices to push pufferfish fillet into the market.
Currently, they are taken back to shore by the hundreds of kilogrammes to be sold as "crystal fish", after they are filleted.
In Penang, Kedah and Perak, pufferfish fillet are used by seafood porridge and bee hoon soup hawkers as "fried fish meat".
The fillet is also widely used as a component of appetisers in Chinese wedding banquets at hotels and restaurants, particularly in Penang.
A source said pufferfish fillet could be half the price of alternatives.
"Hawkers and restaurant owners used to use Spanish mackerel (tenggiri) and grouper fillet, but their prices have risen tremendously over the last two years," said the source yesterday.
"By turning to pufferfish fillet, hawkers and restaurant owners are able to reduce their costs by half," said the source, who added that fillet, normally sold in frozen form, were now prevalent at wet markets in the northern states.
The danger here is that buyers, such as housewives and others who would not suspect any seafood would be toxic, are completely unaware.
"The housewives are not told that the fillet are made from pufferfish. Instead, fishmongers say it is a kind of edible fish, with some calling it 'crystal fish'," the source added.
A Penang fishmonger operating in the Batu Lanchang market said the fillet was a hot item as it was delicious when fried.
"We dare not tell them it is from pufferfish. People are sceptical of eating pufferfish as it is known to be poisonous," said the seller who believed that pufferfish was edible if the toxin was removed.
"I have been selling this for the past few months, and nobody has gotten sick or died," he said. "Therefore, I think it's safe to eat."