A pufferfish being prepared for cookingImage copyright AFP
Image caption The pufferfish’s potentially lethal internal organs need to be removed before cooking

A new hybrid species of puffer fish could end up on the plates of Japanese diners, with the risk that chefs not familiar with its anatomy may fail to remove its notoriously deadly poison.

Experts are blaming climate change for the arrival of the new species, where the Spottyback puffer has started to migrate from its usual habitat in the Sea of Japan (also known as the East Sea) to the Pacific Ocean, where it has been mixing with the native Shosai-fugu.

A survey carried out by Japan’s National Fisheries University found that over half of the puffers, or fugu, studied in a three-year programme were Spottyback-Shosai-fugu hybrids.

The result, the Mainichi Daily News reports, is a hybrid species that is proving difficult to identify at fish markets. Despite government advice on identifying the new species, many are being discarded for the sake of safety.

The university’s Professor Hiroshi Takahashi told The Mainichi there is now an increased possibility that hybrids will end up on consumers’ plates.

Deadly catch

The problem faced by biologists and chefs alike is in correctly identifying the new species of fugu, so that its liver, ovaries and other organs which carry a deadly neurotoxin can be removed before preparation for the table.

It’s a genuine danger, because even the tiniest error could kill. With the fish currently being identified by hand, Professor Takahashi has called for new methods to scientifically screen puffers to head off potential fatalities due to incorrectly identified fugu.

There could be another way around the problem for Japanese diners though, who can pay up to 35,000 yen ($315; £245) for a puffer fish meal.

Some researchers claim to have reared puffer fish free from the toxin and want the government to relax laws to allow their fish to be served with its liver, which is considered the tastiest part of the fish.

Japan’s food safety commission will rule on this by the end of the year.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The liver of a puffer fish contains potentially fatal toxins

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Reporting by Alistair Coleman, Tse Yin Lee

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