Rhode Island health officials have noted a surprising number of smooth puffer catches this summer, and are warning fishermen to discard that potentially toxic species.
What are those warm water fish doing so far north? Actually, the same thing happened several summers ago of the N.J. Shore. It’s not unusual for southern species to migrate up to the NY/NJ-Bight or even to Cape Cod in the summer, but the secret to a brief abundance may be found in the following description in Vic Dunaway’s Sport Fish of the Atlantic: “Basically an offshore fish that’s caught by anglers only when it comes to beaches, or into bays, at unpredictable times.”
Dunaway noted under food value “Provides more meat and just as good as other puffers
but should be cleaned with care.”
When I started saltwater fishing on the south shore of Long Island in the 1950s, the most abundant species was the blowfish (northern puffer). Most people didn’t eat them then, but my Italian uncles were well aware they were good-eating long before “chicken of the sea” became a fish store favorite. I learned how to clean them by cutting through the skin just behind the head and pulling out the “tail ” meat while discarding the rest of the fish — including the toxic and intact guts.
I had read about the Japanese dish fugu had to be prepared by a specially trained chef in order to avoid toxic consequences when eaten. I wondered how that could be accomplished before becoming aware that the fish was a puffer — and I was performing the same feat of cleaning without cutting into the toxic organs. I could have made my fortune in Japan cleaning blowfish!
Smooth puffers have smooth skins and are usually much larger than other puffers. They are strong fighters, and in some areas are called rabbitfish. I caught my personal record of 19 1/2 inches this winter in St. Lucie Inlet on a jig and shrimp.