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Update on the safety of shellfish collection - Bay of Plenty

1 December 2011

Update on the safety of shellfish collection - Bay of Plenty coastline and parts of Coromandel

The health warning advising against the collection and consumption of shellfish, kina, crabs and seaweed due to the oil spill from the MV Rena is no longer necessary and has been lifted by the Medical Officer of Health. However, recreational and traditional taking of shellfish in some parts of the coastline remains risky but now for a different reason. Routine sampling has now shown high levels of naturally occurring Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxins from Tairua in the Coromandel to Rogers Road at Pukehina. Therefore, a new health warning is being issued advising against the collection or consumption of shellfish in these areas.

Oil related contamination
A shellfish monitoring programme, coordinated by Bay of Plenty Regional Council, has shown that although some samples of shellfish from the most affected shoreline showed traces of hydrocarbon from the oil spill, this has been well below acceptable food safety levels. The amount detected has also fallen during the period since the last significant oiling events. Therefore there is now no appreciable food safety risk from the MV Rena oil spill.

Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxin
People are advised not to collect or eat shellfish from anywhere along the coastline from Tairua in the Coromandel to Rogers Road at Pukehina until further notice.

“This health warning has been issued due to results that showed high levels of PSP toxins detected from shellfish samples taken in this area,” says Medical Officer of Health, Dr Jim Miller.

PSP toxin is caused naturally by biotoxins that are generated by phytoplankton. People cannot tell if shellfish are risky by looking at them. The health warning applies to all bi-valve shellfish including mussels, pipi, tuatua, cockles, oysters, scallops, as well as catseyes and kina (sea urchin). Paua, crayfish and crabs can still be taken but the gut should be removed before cooking.

Symptoms of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning include numbness and tingling around the mouth, face or extremities; difficulty swallowing or breathing; dizziness; double vision and in severe cases, paralysis and respiratory failure. These symptoms usually occur within 12 hours of a person consuming affected shellfish. Anyone suffering illness after eating shellfish should seek medical attention immediately.

“It is disappointing to have to give such mixed news on the safety of shellfish. Just as we are able to reassure people about the impact of the oil spill, nature has presented another hazard,” says Dr Jim Miller.

In summary, the oil is no longer of concern in relation to food safety along the Bay of Plenty coastline, however due to high levels of PSP toxins the public are advised against collecting or eating shellfish from Tairua in the Coromandel to Rogers Road at Pukehina.

For further information:

• Map of affected coastline: www.foodsmart.govt.nz/food-safety/hunting-collecting-fishing/seafood-gatherers/marine-biotoxin-alerts.htm

For all health warning updates across the Bay of Plenty and Lakes districts call 0800 221 555.


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