Are catfish poisonous?
Some are. But many will only cause injury with their hollow
barbed fins, which can deliver a stinging protein. But some
species, such as the striped eel catfish, can deliver a toxic mucus
that may be fatal to humans. The edible portions of catfish do not
contain any toxins.
A recent study suggests that about half of the 3000 known
species of catfish are poisonous. Only a few species are poisonous
enough to hurt humans (none in North America). The rest cause about
the same amount of discomfort as bee stings. National Geographic
also states that as the catfish grow, the venom glands shrink,
indicating the venom glands are meant for defense while the fish is
The venom comes from glands near the pectoral fins. When the
fins are grabbed the glands are ripped, releasing the venom.
The majority of catfish species have poisonous barbs located
within their dorsal (top) and lateral (side) fins. If stuck with
one of these, they can inject a toxin which causes a painful sting
which usually resolves on its own after time. However, like any
wound, it can get infected and it is advisable to clean and treat
it. Only a select few of catfish species (located in areas of
Southern Asia and India) have stings which could cause serious
complications, or very rarely, death.
The catfish toxin is protein-based (like bee stings) and thus is
treatable with meat tenderizer. Ammonia and vinegar will not be
very effective, as they are alkali (base) treatments, to be used
for acid-based toxins.