GEORGE TOWN: The sting of an eel-tail catfish or ikan sembilang will not kill you, but the pain is so extreme that you might think you are dying!
Angler Zuldanial Rullah Pawanchek, 26, learnt it the hard way while fishing under the Penang Bridge.
“From your skin to your bone marrow and fingernails, you will feel like you’re on fire.
“Moving my arm even slightly brought so much pain that I could hardly breathe,” he said.
It began only as a tiny cut on his right index finger. It felt numb at first, but as the venom travelled up his arm, the suffering started.
Zuldanial Rullah was delighted when he landed an eel-tail catfish on Saturday, a delicacy in Malaysia when deep-fried or stewed in curry.
This fish has needle-sharp stingers up to 5cm long which are hard as nails.
“I was unhooking the fish when it shook and one of the stingers got me. I have been fishing since I was a kid and know it is venomous. But I never knew it would be so torturous.”
His fishing trip botched, he called one of three boatmen who ferry anglers to fish from the many piers below the bridge but none of them answered his calls.
He then called 999 and a rescue boat from Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency went to his aid. An ambulance waiting at the jetty then took him to the hospital.
“The pain lasted three days even after the doctor gave me an injection. I couldn’t sleep the first night,” Zuldanial Rullah said yesterday.
He advised anglers to snap off the fish’s stingers with a pair of pliers before handling it.
Marine biologist Prof Dr Aileen Tan said the eel-tail catfish’s venom is a protein toxin. While non-lethal, a bad sting can turn gangrenous if not treated.
Researchers in India, she said, isolated the toxin and when a few milligrams of its pure form was injected into guinea pigs, it caused instant death by cardiac arrest.
A spokesman from PLUS Malaysia Bhd warned that it is illegal to trespass on the bridge’s piers which are restricted areas.