Is it safe to gather shellfish? – MPI can tell you

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Media contact: MPI media team
Telephone: 029 894 0328

A new service to email warnings to shellfish gatherers about toxin levels in shellfish has been introduced for summer by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

MPI spokesperson Jim Sim said people need to heed the warnings because toxins from algae can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and sometimes paralysis or death when they build up in shellfish.

“It’s pretty high stakes. If you get it wrong, you could get very sick or even die.”

MPI gathers water and shellfish around the country every week to test for the presence of toxic algae or their toxins. If safe levels are exceeded, MPI and some district health boards put up warning signs at affected areas. Warnings are also posted on this website.

Mr Sim said people can now go to the webpage and sign up to get email alerts for toxin warnings.

“You cannot see, smell or taste the toxins, and cooking will not remove them, so it’s important to know if your area is affected.”

There are currently 2 biotoxin warnings in place.  One warning is for the Northland west coast, from the southern entrance of Whangape Harbour (Tuapeke Point), southwards to Pouto at the entrance to Kaipara Harbour. Hokianga Harbour is also included in this warning.

The second warning is in the Bay of Plenty from the mouth of the Otahu River at the southern end of Whangamata Beach, going right down to Rogers Road at Pukehina Beach.

Follow these shellfish gathering tips to help keep you and your family and friends safe:

  • Only gather shellfish from clean water. Don’t gather after heavy rain - wait for the sea and rivers to clear up for a few days before gathering after rain.
  • Avoid gathering shellfish from populated areas where pollution may be present. Avoid areas near storm water pipes, industrial runoff, grazing farm animals and marinas.
  • Keep your shellfish cool after gathering it. Keep some ice wrapped in a towel in your chilly bin with the shellfish sitting on top - keeping them directly on ice will kill them as it’s too cold for them.
  • Cook your shellfish thoroughly but remember cooking will only kill harmful bacteria, it will not remove algal toxins.
  • If anyone becomes ill after consuming shellfish, seek medical attention immediately and try and save any leftover shellfish so it can be tested.

Download our pamphlet for more advice about collecting shellfish and keeping them safe [PDF, 1.4 MB]

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