Whitebait from city rivers off the menu this season

Friday August 5, 2011

Christchurch whitebaiters are being warned against fishing in or around the Avon/ Otakaro River, Heathcote/ Opawaho River or Avon-Heathcote/ Otakaro-Opawaho Estuary/Ihutai this season because of sewage contamination.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Dr Alistair Humphrey says there have been warnings in place regarding the gathering of fish or shellfish in these areas since the February earthquakes.

“With the whitebait season beginning on August 15, it is important that local whitebaiters continue to heed the warnings against fishing,” Dr Humphrey says.

Earthquake damage to Christchurch’s sewerage and wastewater systems means there are ongoing discharges of untreated sewage into the rivers and estuary, which will continue for some time.

Dr Humphrey says any whitebait caught in these rivers will also be contaminated and could make people very sick if eaten.

“Although people think whitebait is safe because it is cooked, the water in which the whitebait is surrounded and then subsequently frozen will contain sewage and can contaminate your kitchen and utensils,” he says.

“You may not get sick from eating the whitebait patty but you could get sick from other food prepared in the same kitchen. Whitebaiters also put themselves at risk if they enter sewage contaminated waterways.”

Most ill-health effects are minor and short-lived but there is the potential for more serious diseases such as hepatitis A, giardia, cryptosporosis, campylobacter and salmonella, which can cause serious illness such as liver and kidney failure, Dr Humphrey says.

Meanwhile, it is still safe for people to fish for whitebait in the Waimakiriri River, Halswell/ Hurutini River, Styx / Parakaunui River and any rivers north of the Waimakiriri or south of Lyttelton Harbour.

“We ask for people to notify Community and Public Health if they see anyone whitebaiting in the Avon/ Otakaro or Heathcote/ Opawaho rivers,” Dr Humphrey says.

Public are advised:

  • Not drink water from the rivers or estuary

  • Not to use the river or estuary for recreational use, including swimming or boating.

  • To avoid physical contact with water in these waterways. ​

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Page last reviewed: 14 February 2014
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