Can excreted thiocyanate be used to detect cyanide exposure in live reef fish?

Document Type


Publication Title


Publication Date



Cyanide fishing, where a solution of sodium or potassium cyanide is used to stun reef fish for easy capture for the marine aquarium and live fish food trades, continues to be pervasive despite being illegal in many countries and destructive to coral reef ecosystems. Currently, there is no easy, reliable and universally accepted method to detect if a fish has been exposed to cyanide during the capture process. A promising non-invasive technique for detecting thiocyanate ions, the metabolic byproduct excreted by exposed fish, has been reported in the literature. In an effort to validate this method, four cyanide exposure studies on Amphiprion ocellaris (common clownfish) were carried out over three years. Fish were either exposed to the same (25 ppm) or twice the concentration (50 ppm) as the previsouly published method. Over 100 water samples of fish exposed to cyanide were analyzed by reverse phase HPLC with a C30 column treated with polyethylene glycol and UV detector operating at 220 nm. No thiocyanate was detected beyond the analytical standards and positive controls prepared in seawater. As an alternate means of detecting thiocyanate, water samples and thiocyanate standards from these exposures were derivatized with monobromobimane (MBB) for LC-MS/MS analysis. Thiocyanate was detected in standards with concentrations as low as 0.6 μg/L and quantified to 1 μg/L, but thiocyanate could not be detected in any of the water samples from fish exposed to cyanide with this method either, confirming the HPLC results. Further, we calculated both the mass balance of thiocyanate and the resultant plausible dosage of cyanide from the data reported in the previously published method. These calculations, along with the known lethal dosage of cyanide, further suggests that the detection of thiocyanate in aquarium water is not a viable method for assessing fish exposure to cyanide.