New Zealand Food Safety is advising the public not to collect or consume shellfish gathered from the Kawhia region on the west coast of North Island due to the presence of paralytic shellfish toxins.
"Routine tests on mussels from Kawhia wharf have shown levels of paralytic shellfish toxins over the safe limit," says New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general Vincent Arbuckle. "The warning extends from Papanui Point, just south of Raglan, to Tirua Point, south of Marokopa. The warning also includes Kawhia and Aotea harbours.
"Please do not gather and eat shellfish from this area because anyone doing so could get sick. Affected shellfish include bivalve shellfish such as mussels, oysters, tuatua, pipi, toheroa, cockles, and scallops, as well as pūpū (cat's eyes), Cook's turban and kina (sea urchin).
"Cooking the shellfish does not remove the toxin.
"We are monitoring an Alexandrium pacificum bloom off this region that has been around for the past month. This type of algae produces a dangerous toxin and when shellfish filter-feed, these toxins can accumulate in their gut and flesh. Generally, the more algae there are in the water, the more toxic the shellfish get."
Symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning usually appear within 10 minutes to 3 hours of eating and may include:
- numbness and a tingling (prickly feeling) around the mouth, face, hands, and feet
- difficulty swallowing or breathing
- dizziness and headache
- nausea and vomiting
- paralysis and respiratory failure and, in severe cases, death.
Pāua, crab, and crayfish may still be eaten if the gut has been completely removed prior to cooking, as toxins accumulate in the gut. If the gut is not removed, its contents could contaminate the meat during the cooking process. Finfish are not affected by this public health warning.
New Zealand Food Safety has had no notifications of associated illness.
If anyone becomes ill after eating shellfish from an area where a public health warning has been issued, phone Healthline for advice on 0800 61 11 16, or seek medical attention immediately. You are also advised to contact your nearest public health unit and keep any leftover shellfish in case it can be tested.
"We are monitoring shellfish in the region and will notify the public of any changes to the situation," says Mr Arbuckle.
Commercially harvested shellfish – sold in shops and supermarkets or exported – is subject to strict water and flesh monitoring programmes by New Zealand Food Safety to ensure they are safe to eat.
Find out more
See signage in the affected area.