Food safety when fishing and gathering shellfish
Fishing and gathering shellfish are much-loved traditions for many New Zealanders and their families. But there are some health risks. Find out what precautions to take.
On this page:
- Shellfish food safety
- Fish food safety
- Advice for trout fishing near 1080 drops
- Check the fishing rules
Collect fish and shellfish only from areas where the water is not contaminated. Make sure you handle, store, and cook fish and shellfish properly.
Our video has tips on how to safely gather and store shellfish.
Take care eating shellfish
Shellfish are a high-risk food because they can live in contaminated water. They can pick up and store bacteria, viruses, biotoxins, or pollution that can cause sickness.
Check for warnings in your area
Public warnings are issued for affected areas when our test results show that biotoxins are present and shellfish are unsafe to eat.
Cooking doesn't always make it safe to eat
Shellfish are often eaten raw or lightly cooked, which does not kill viruses and bacteria. And no amount of cooking will destroy biotoxins or other chemical contaminants that they might be storing.
If you have low immunity
If you have low immunity, or are immune-compromised, you should not eat raw or undercooked shellfish.
Fish taken from water containing sewage can carry bacteria and viruses that can make you sick when you eat them.
Certain types of fish can also contain mercury.
When not chilled adequately, some fish can produce histamine that can be toxic to humans.
The most common symptoms are:
- tingling and burning around the mouth
- facial flushing
Other symptoms can include a skin rash, nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, dizziness, palpitations, headaches, and possibly respiratory distress.
Symptoms can last for up to 12 hours but there are no long-term effects.
What you can do to avoid histamine poisoning
Check which fish carry the risk. To make the fish safe to eat, the best approach is to chill it or put it on ice, and keep it chilled until you use it. Do this as soon as you can after you catch it.
These types of fish may form histamine, and need to be chilled well:
Food safety for seafood gatherers [PDF, 681 KB]
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has published research findings on the effects of 1080 on trout. (1080 is a poison used to control predators of native wildlife).
Based on MPI's latest risk assessment, our advice is for anglers to wait 7 days after a 1080 baiting operation to minimise any food safety concerns.
Different areas have different rules and they can change. Make sure you check the rules every time before you start fishing or gathering shellfish.