Is dory fish safe to eat? (3+ risks)

In this article, we will discuss whether it is safe to eat dory fish, the risks of eating dory fish, why should you not eat a dory fish and what are the alternatives to dory fish for human consumption.

Dory fish, or surgeonfish, is called Paracanthurus hepathus and is an ornamental fish found in coral reefs of tropical regions. Its popularity has grown since the release of the film “Finding Nemo” by Disney and Pixar with the blue tangy fish character Dory.

Is dory fish safe to eat?

Yes, dory fish is safe to eat. Like other fish in coral reef regions, dory is a source of proteins for the local fishers (2), however, there are many risks involved in eating dory fish (3, 4) and also many reasons to not eat dory fish, even if it is safe to eat.

First, surgeonfish is an ornamental fish and is avoided for human consumption. Second, ornamental fish is often captured by using cyanide, causing poisoning of the coral reefs and the fish, and third due to a risk of poisoning by ciguatoxin (1, 3, 4, 5).

What are the risks of eating dory fish?

The risks of eating dory fish are summarised in the table below (1, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Risk Description Consequences Symptoms

Cyanide poisoning

The capture of ornamental fish such as dory is often made by using cyanide, which induces the fish immobilisation and facilitates the catch Cyanide released in the water results in fish poisoning, water pollution and the death of many in the ocean living organisms (1) Cyanide ingestion causes intoxication, acidosis, and lowering of the blood pressure. It can bind to enzymes and may cause damage to the brain, neural system and thyroid (7)

Ciguatoxin poisoning

Ingestion of ciguatoxin present in surgeon fish. This toxin can be produced by fish living in coral reefs, such as dory fish  Food poisoning by ciguatoxin. Aggravation of the intoxication can be fatal Possible symptoms of ciguatoxin poisoning are gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhoea, headache, sensation of loose teeth tingling, and bradycardia

Foodborne disease

Infection by the ingestion of contaminated fish by pathogenic microorganisms or their toxins  Fish can be a host of pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites and cause foodborne illnesses, especially when eaten raw or undercooked or when improperly stored or handled Foodborne illnesses may result in symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and fever. In severe cases can lead to death

Chemical poisoning (heavy metals/ organochlorines)

Poisoning by heavy metals or organochlorinated chemicals The coral reefs regions are highly contaminated by heavy metals and organochlorinated pollutants, as well as fish living in these regions, such as the dory (5) The cumulative ingestion of heavy metals and organochlorinated chemicals may cause mutation, and cell damage and lead to diseases, such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases (6)

Why should you not eat a dory fish?

You should not eat a dory fish because it is an ornamental fish (1), which is not farmed but captured in its living environments and therefore, its number is very limited and not suitable to be commercialised as a human food source (1, 2).

In addition, surgeonfish can produce ciguatoxin, which is one of the most toxic foodborne poisoning caused by the ingestion of fish (3), leading to gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea.

Intoxication by ciguatoxin can also cause cardiac symptoms, such as tachycardia and bradycardia, reduction of blood pressure, vertigo, headache, muscle cramping and weakness, as well as skin manifestations.

What are the possible alternatives to dory fish?

Possible alternatives to dory fish are fish species considered safe in terms of mercury contamination, according to the Food and Health Administration. Some examples are (8):

  • Herring
  • Trout
  • Tilapia
  • Sardine
  • Anchovy
  • Seafood in general (shrimp, scallops, crab and oyster)

In general, smaller fish are safer to eat than bigger predatory fish. Avoid yellowfin tuna, swordfish, Spanish mackerel and shark.


in this article, we discussed whether it is safe to eat dory fish, what are the risks of eating dory fish, why should you not eat dory fish and the alternatives to dory fish.

Dory fish has gained in popularity due to the character of the film “Finding Nemo” and is an ornamental fish thought to be a pet fish, not a food.

I recommend eating Sardine, which is a very nutritious fish. My recipe is steamed Aubergine added with sauteed tomatoes and onions, olive oil and Sardines!

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