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Whitebait Fishers Advised To Wash Catch From Opaoa River

Whitebait fishers advised to wash catch from Opaoa River

With the whitebait season now open, Marlborough District Council is advising people fishing for the delicacy in the urban Opaoa (Opawa) River in Blenheim to thoroughly wash their catch in fresh water, due to raised E. coli levels in the river.

Karen Winter, Council’s Environmental Health Officer says as a precautionary measure, whitebait fishers should wash both their catch and their hands in fresh water or under the tap at home.

“Whitebaiters’ hands could get contaminated from river water and there’s also a risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen. While you may not get sick from eating a cooked whitebait fritter, you could get ill from utensils or other foods prepared in the same kitchen.”

“People who sell or gift whitebait may also be passing on the risk of infection is they do not thoroughly wash their catch and equipment.”

Following the November 2016 earthquake, Council video inspections of wastewater pipes and DNA source-tracking found that E.coli was entering the Taylor River from damaged pipes. Duck and dog poo are also known sources of contaminants.

While recent testing has shown a significant fall in overall E. coli levels in both the Opaoa and Taylor rivers over the last six months, it is not known whether this downward trend will continue. Higher E. coli levels were found in samples in April and June during rainfall when the water was dirtier.

The Opaoa River water sampling site is halfway between the Taylor confluence and where the Opaoa flows into the Wairau River near the coast.

Overall Marlborough’s rivers and swimming spots have generally very good environmental indicators and are in good shape. Other whitebaiting rivers are not affected; however following good food safety practices and washing whitebait is recommended.

People can go the Council’s website for more information at: https://www.marlborough.govt.nz/recreation/swimming-and-boating/swimming-locations which also links into the national LAWA water quality website.

Water quality is monitored on a monthly basis at 34 sites as part of the Marlborough region’s state of the environment monitoring. Weekly testing begins at some sites from early November, in time for the summer swimming season.

Further information on whitebait and food safety can also be found at: https://www.mpi.govt.nz/food-safety/community-food/whitebait/


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