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Arkansas family survives bitter experience with gar eggs

From the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

-- Not all fish eggs create caviar; some can be downright dangerous. A Cleburne County family discovered this after becoming violently ill upon eating the eggs of a long-nosed gar on April 5.

The eggs of some fish species are processed into expensive caviar, and fried fish eggs are a spicy appetizer in Indian cuisine. Even bluegill eggs can be deep-fried and served. But the eggs of all gar species are extremely toxic and should be avoided.

“My husband Darwin (Aaron) and brother-in-law Russell (Aaron) had gone spearfishing in Greers Ferry Lake and had gotten one gar,” said Tiffany Aaron. “My husband had heard that gar were good to eat, and we’ve always been a family that’s up for trying anything once.”

Mrs. Aaron said Darwin, Russell and her 10-year-old son, Carson, ate the gar and its eggs at about 8 p.m. that evening. Carson was the first to get sick, and began vomiting by 1:30 a.m. Russell became ill by 3 a.m., and Darwin followed suit at 5 a.m.

“The men were the only ones who had eaten the eggs, so I got online to find out more,” said Mrs. Aaron. “That’s when we found out they were poisonous.”

Carson was taken to Baptist Health Medical Center in Heber Springs where he was put under observation.

“My biggest question was what should we expect or watch for,” said Mrs. Aaron. “But the ER doctors didn’t have any experience with this sort of poisoning, and the Poison Control Center didn’t have any information. The one thing the doctors could tell me is that it was fortunate that my son began vomiting as quickly as he did to get the toxins out of his system.”

Lee Holt, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Fisheries Management Biologist conducting research on alligator gar, was contacted for more information about the type of toxin contained in gar eggs.

“I made a lot of calls to gar experts I knew from my research,” said Holt. “Our main concern was the type of toxin. There was one mention of it possibly being cyanide-based. The doctor at the emergency room explained that treatment for cyanide poisoning can be just as harsh as the toxin, so we needed to make sure before (Carson) was given any treatments.”

Holt said he found out that it was a protein-based toxin, so the harsh treatments could be avoided.

All three men recovered from the episode, but the effects of the poisoning lingered for three days.

“As it turns out, there’s so little information on the subject that researchers at Nicholls State University in Louisiana are conducting follow-up interviews about the family’s ordeal,” Holt said.

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