New Zealand Food Safety is advising the public not to collect or consume shellfish gathered from the Northland west coast due to a high paralytic shellfish toxin risk.
"Routine tests on seawater from Hokianga Harbour have shown very high levels of toxin-producing phytoplankton," says New Zealand Food Safety deputy director-general Vincent Arbuckle. "This is very likely to cause shellfish to contain paralytic shellfish toxins over the safe limit.
"We are sending shellfish for testing and while we await confirmatory results a warning is in place from Tauroa Point (Reef Point) to Glinks Gully, including the Herekino, Whangape, and Hokianga 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).
"It's also important to note that cooking the shellfish does not remove the toxin."
The Northland alert comes as New Zealand Food Safety reduces the biotoxin warning for the Hawke's Bay region after testing has shown a drop in paralytic shellfish toxins to safe levels in some areas.
However, local councils still have a shellfish-collection warning in place from Te Awanga to Bay View due to harmful viruses and bacteria. For more information on this, contact the Napier City Council.
The warning remains in place for the area from Cape Runaway down to Wairoa River mouth. People are warned not to collect or consume shellfish from this area, as the paralytic shellfish toxins are still at elevated levels.
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 included in this public health warning, but we advise people to gut the fish and discard the liver before cooking.
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.
"New Zealand Food Safety is 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 – are 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.