Fish toxins

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For fish that produce venom harmful to humans, see Venomous fish.

Fish toxins or fish stupefying plants have historically been used by many hunter gatherer cultures to stun fish, so that the fish become easy to collect by hand. Some of these toxins paralyse fish, others work by reducing oxygen content in water.[1] The process of documenting many fish toxins and their use is ongoing, with interest in potential uses from medicine, agriculture, and industry. (Jeremy, 2002)


Use of the herbal fish poisons has been documented in a number of sources involving catching fish from fresh and sea water.[2]

Tribal people historically used various plants for medicinal and food exploitation purposes[3] extends the use notion for herbal fish stupefying plants. Use of the fish poisons is very old practice in the history of human kind. In 1212 AD King Frederick II prohibited the use of certain plant piscicides, and by the fifteenth century similar laws had been decreed in other European countries as well (Wilhelm 1974). All over the globe, indigenous people use various fish poisons to kill the fishes, including America (Jeremy 2002) and among Tarahumara Indians (Gajdusek 1954).

Herbal fish stupefying agents are proven means of fishing, which do not kill fish like chemical poisons. Many of the fish stupefying plants have been used for a long time by local people, and have been tested and found to have medicinal properties like Careya arborea as a tested plant used as analgesic (Ahmed et al. 2002) and anti diarrheal (Rahman et al. 2003). Some of the plants like C. collinus are a traditional poison used in the different part of the country (Sarathchandra and Balakrishnamurthy 1997, Thomas et al. 1991). In earlier studies, bark extracts of Lannea coromandelica caused lyses of cell membrane followed by fragmentation of cellular materials. These studies scientifically confirmed the toxic property of these plants.

Example plants[edit]

In Africa the closely related families of Caesalpiniaceae, Mimosaceae and Papilionaceae, and a large number of Euphorbiaceae account for most fish poisons. [4]

Aesculus californica[edit]

California buckeye (Aesculus californica) is a widespread tree in western USA oak woodlands and chaparral. The large orange colored fruit is leached in warm water, with the resultant aesculin mixture then applied to pools in slow moving streams to stun fish.[5]

Chlorogalum pomeridianum[edit]

Many of California's Native American tribes traditionally used soaproot, (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) which contains saponin, as a fish poison. They would pulverize the roots, mixing in water to create a foam, and then add the suds to a stream. This would kill or incapacitate the fish, which could be gathered easily from the surface of the water. Among the tribes using this technique were the Lassik, the Luiseño, the Yuki, the Yokut, the Chilula, the Wailaki, the Miwok, the Kato, the Mattole, the Nomlaki and the Nishinam.[6]


Olax in the family Olacacae is a climber with compound, dark green leaves and white bark. This is the most extensively used fish poison among Gond. Typically in summer the leaves of this plant are dried and powdered. About 1 kg powder is mixed in 5 X 5 feet (1.5 m) pond water. This is generally used in the summer when water is confined to small, shallow ponds. Fish are stunned by the poison and rise to the surface where they are easily collected by hand. It was observed that if stunned fish were immediately re-introduced into clean water they would become active. In order to get good results from the Olax (or Korkat), environmental temperature should be high.

Careya coccinea[edit]

Careya arborea (or Kummod Hir) in the family Lecythidaceae is a large deciduous tree with simple large obovate leaves, large fruit and dark gray bark. The root bark is crushed and mixed in water. Upon its admixture, water blackens.

Cleistanthus collinus[edit]

Cleistanthus collinus in the family Euphorbiaceae (common name Odcha in Gondi) is a medium sized tree mainly found around villages. Young tender shoots of this species are used for fish stunning. The shoots are crushed in water on stone and paste is mixed in water. Apart from its use as fish stupefying agent, the stem of this plant is used for brushing teeth, leaves for storing grains and wood as fuel.

Odcha at fruiting

Lannea coromandelica[edit]

Lannea coromandelica in the family Anacardiaceae is a medium sized to large deciduous tree with spreading crown and stout branches. The leaves are compound, bark whitish or gray and small, yellowish or purplish flowers. Flowers and fruits appear between February and June. Fruits (Red, compressed, reniform and 1-seeded) of this plant are crushed and mixed in water. It is abundant in the Mendha forest.

Costus speciosus [edit]

Costus speciosus[7] in the family Costaceae is an erect, succulent herb, up to 2.7 m tall and with a tuberous rootstock. Leaves are spirally arranged on stem, 15-30 cm long and 5.7 to 7.5 cm wide, oblong to oblanceolate, glabrous above and silky pubescent beneath, apex caudate-acuminate, base rounded. Flowers are large, white with a yellow center, borne in dense terminal spikes, bracts 2 to 3.2 cm long, ovate, bright red to reddish-brown. Fruit is (capsule) ovoid, 2 cm in diameter, 3-halved, red when ripe; seeds are black, with a white aril. Tuberous rootstock is crushed and mixed in water for fish stunning. Apart from its use as fish stunning agent in Mendha; tubers of Bese mati are consumed as nutritious delicacy after boiling.

Madhuca indica[edit]

Madhuca indica in the family Sapotaceae is a large tree, with seeds yielding edible oil. After the removal of the oil from seeds, the remaining cake is used for fish stunning. This cake is locally known as Gara-Dhep. The cake is boiled in water and mixture mixed in water. 0.5 kg cake is sufficient for a 100 sqft pond. It is an effective agent, but fish usually die due to its application.

Nauclea orientalis[edit]

Nauclea orientalis is a large tree in the Rubiaceae family. It is commonly known as the Leichhardt tree. The bark is used in creating fish poison.[8]

Pterocarpus marsupium[edit]

Pterocarpus marsupium in the family Fabaceae is a large tree with simple leaves. Gray color bark is used for fish poisoning. Bark is crushed and mixed in water.

Chloroxylon swietenia[edit]

Chloroxylon swietenia in the family Rutaceae is a medium sized tree with compound leaves.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ethnozoology of the Tsou People: Fishing with poison.
  2. ^ A.L. Dahl (1985} Traditional Environmental Management in New Caledonia: A Review of Existing Knowledge
  3. ^ V. Singh (ed) (2007) Indian Folk Medicines and Other Plant-Based Products. Jodhpur Scientific Publications. Chapter 22 ISBN 81-7233-481-8
  4. ^ "Plants used for poison fishing in tropical Africa"
  5. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) California Buckeye: Aesculus californica,, N. Stromberg ed.
  6. ^ Campbell, Paul (1999). Survival skills of native California. Gibbs Smith. p. 433. ISBN 978-0-87905-921-7. 
  7. ^ "Fish stupefying plants used by the Gond tribal of Mendha village of Central India". Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Rashtra Vardhana (2006). Floristic plants of the world. Sarup & Sons. ISBN 978-81-7625-651-3. 


  • Shubhangi Pawar, Patil, M V, Patil, D A (2004) Fish stupefying plants used by tribals of North Maharashtra/ Ethnobotany, Vol 16,No 1/2, 136-138.