Fishing lines

The man-killer that's lurking off Cornwall...
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Further proof that soon we will all be holidaying in Bognor rather than Barbados came last week when a trawler off Cornwall caught a barracuda. The first netted off the British Isles, this barracuda is one more sign of global warming spreading its invisible net.

Barracuda are usually found in warm, sunny seas. Cornwall benefits from the Gulf Stream, but even so, it's not a vast tropical current. It's still darn chilly.

Barracuda are quite common around Biscay and in the Mediterranean. The Cornish coast is only an afternoon swim for one of the swiftest fish in the sea.

This 12lb, 3ft 6in fish was identified as a great barra-cuda by Paul Gainey, a fish recorder for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. That would be quite a story. Sphyraena barracuda, the great barracuda, grows to 8ft and looks like death with fins.

Barracuda have a fearsome reputation. Superficially they resemble a giant silver pike, but their Dracula teeth and killer eyes indicate something far more sinister. According to Dangerous to Man, a book by Roger Caras that makes you want to live on the Mir space station for the rest of your life, great barracuda have been implicated in more than 30 attacks on man. But many of these incidents could easily be blamed on other species.

And here's a funny thing: man-eating barracuda have been responsible for far fewer attacks than man eating barracuda. If that sounds confusing, let me explain: particularly in the Caribbean area, the fish carry ciguatera poison. It doesn't hurt the barracuda, but it plays merry hell with humans, claiming 50,000 victims a year in tropical and subtropical areas.

It can kill you. It may not. But you will suffer diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, pain in the teeth, pain on urination, blurred vision and temperature reversal. Ouch.

Having eaten a barracuda I caught off Barbados, I consider myself extremely lucky. More than 70 per cent of barracuda eaters get the works. Me? I had second helpings, and no side effects.

But – just to spoil my dramatic story – the Cornish fish was in fact a smaller species found in more temperate waters, according to Alwyne Wheeler, former keeper of fishes at the Natural History Museum. He is the country's foremost fish expert, and he has viewed photographs. He probably even knows what it had for breakfast, just by looking at the pictures.

Wheeler said : "We are getting so many exotic fish turning up. It is quite fascinating. Some years ago, I wrote a checklist of British fishes. I am now revising it because there are a lot of new species."

Trigger fish, once an exotic tropical species, are now commonly caught off the south-west coast. Wheeler said that he had seen several blue runner, a species of jack common to the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic, over the past few years. The latest had been caught at Dover. Don't trust the scientists who say global warming isn't happening. Fish know best.



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