Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Catfish licking: a new high? It's said that fish's slime is hallucinogenic

By Tony Bridges
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER

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It could be the strangest thing anyone ever asked Tolly Van Brunt.

He was at a boat basin in Franklin County, waiting for a buddy who'd gone to the bait shop. They were headed out to the Gulf for some saltwater fishing.

A boy, maybe 17 or so, sidled up to him on the dock. The kid wanted to make a deal. He'd buy any catfish the anglers caught that day.

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"I told him they weren't any good to eat," Van Brunt said. "And he says, 'Yeah, I know that, but we'd like to get some. We've found a way to get high off the slime.'"

Oh, c'mon. Recreational use of fish goo? That has to be a joke, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

Turns out, a story's been going around for years about hallucinogenic properties in the slime of a certain kind of saltwater catfish. But whether fact or urban legend is not exactly clear.

"I've heard of people licking them and getting zonked like they're on LSD," said Dr. John Hitron, with the Florida State University marine lab in St. Teresa Beach. "I'm not sure how true it is."

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OK, first a few basics on the fish. Most people call them gafftops or sailcats. They're bottom-dwellers, comfortable in mud, usually sticking to bays and the shallow water along coastlines. Not too big, but feisty.

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They have regular catfish whiskers and long, sharp spines on top. When hooked, they produce great big gobs of mucous that coat fishing lines, anglers and anything else that gets close.
And apparently, they're less than tasty.

So, what about this whole licking thing?

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It's hard to tell where or how the story got started, but plenty of folks have heard it. Usually, the friend-of-a-friend version. The anglers down at the Lanark Village Mart - a combination boat dock, bait shop and convenience store near Carrabelle - said last week that they all knew the tale. Same with the C-Quarters Marina, where the annual Big Bend Saltwater Classic is based.

Jack Rudloe's heard it, too. He's the director of the Gulf Marine Specimen Lab in Panacea. A "hippie friend" was the first to tell him.

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"He said, 'Hey, I hear there's a real business there in licking catfish,'" Rudloe said.
The story's even on the Internet, especially the message boards where fishermen from around the Gulf of Mexico gather.

And Hitron, the FSU scientist, said he's heard it all over the country. In New England, the Pacific Northwest, the Florida Keys.

Not everyone's a believer.

"It's just hype," said Amy Noegel-Cohoon, whose husband runs a towboat service out of Carrabelle. "If it wasn't hype, they'd be a hot item."

Any evidence it's true? Not much.

Rudloe was curious enough to give it a taste - in the interest of science, of course. Nothing happened to him, but he did make a discovery.

He said the mucous of most sea life, including snails and other fish, has a fairly bland taste. The gafftop was markedly different."It really had a strange chemical kind of taste to it," he said.
Franklin County fisherman Mark Nolton said he did the same thing after reading something about the slime in Florida Sportsman magazine.

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"I was out about a year ago, and I thought, 'I'm gonna try that,'" he said. "I put a little bit on my tongue, and it went numb instantly."

Hitron said it's possible the slime - a defense mechanism that helps protect the fish from injury and disease - has some neurotoxic qualities, as most fish with spines do.

But whether that means the stuff can send someone on a mind-altering trip, he couldn't say.

"I'll find out if you want me to," offered Van Brunt, who declined to provide catfish to the teenagers. "The next time I catch one, I'll put some in my mouth."

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7 Comments:

Blogger sleepybomb said...

i have seen some bizarre stuff on the net today. . . you win!
(all of a sudden i got a hankerin' for catfish!)
m.a.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

Glad you liked that. I am rather proud of the illustrations, odd as they might be. I hear some people like to lick toads, too...

7:43 PM  
Blogger sleepybomb said...

ahh, toad licking and clay eating come easy in the south, (tho not in new orleans, we stuck to 'shrooms).
but i really never heard of this, fascinating, and yet, very disturbing.let's us know of anymore fun stuff to do with trash if if ya find it. . . . (love the site, btw).
m.a.

7:46 PM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

Hey, man, I heard about people gettin' high at a Phish concert but this is ridiculous.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Sheryl said...

Not to sound paranoid, but it sounds a bit fishy to me.

Besides, if slime were hallucinogenic, then the Bush administration would be a real trip.

Hope that guy licking his students boo boos doesn't have AIDS. What a disturbed man. :( What on earth would motivate that kind of behavior?

1:17 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

Sheryl, eeew and double-eeeeww!! Great puns. You too, J. Your comments have made my Thursday!

11:46 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

Sheryl wrote:

"Hope that guy licking his students boo boos doesn't have AIDS. What a disturbed man. :( What on earth would motivate that kind of behavior? "

Bloodlust, of course.

11:47 AM  

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