In a recent development, New Zealand Food Safety has expanded its advisory, cautioning the public against collecting or consuming shellfish from the East Coast of the North Island due to the presence of paralytic shellfish toxins.
The existing warning has been extended northward, now encompassing the area from Cape Runaway to Blackhead Point, just north of Pōrangahau. Vincent Arbuckle, deputy director-general of New Zealand Food Safety, explained that follow-up tests on mussels from Hicks Bay Beach showed levels of paralytic shellfish toxins three times the safe limit.
Individuals are strongly advised against gathering and consuming shellfish from this area, as ingestion may result in illness. Bivalve shellfish, including mussels, oysters, tuatua, pipi, toheroa, cockles, scallops, as well as pūpū (cat’s eyes), Cook’s turban, and kina (sea urchin), are affected.
The advisory is in response to an algal bloom off the East Coast, producing a dangerous toxin that accumulates in the gut and flesh of filter-feeding shellfish. Cooking the shellfish does not eliminate the toxin, making consumption unsafe.
Symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning, which may manifest within 10 minutes to three hours of consumption, include numbness and tingling around the mouth, face, hands, and feet; difficulty swallowing or breathing; dizziness and headache; nausea and vomiting; diarrhea; and in severe cases, paralysis, respiratory failure, and even death.
While pāua, crab, and crayfish can still be consumed if the gut is completely removed before cooking, careful attention is necessary, as toxins tend to accumulate in the gut. Finfish remain unaffected by this warning, but it is recommended to gut the fish and discard the liver before cooking.
As of now, New Zealand Food Safety has not received any notifications of associated illness. Individuals experiencing illness after consuming shellfish from the warned area are urged to contact Healthline at 0800 61 11 16 or seek medical attention immediately. Additionally, it is advised to contact the nearest public health unit and retain any leftover shellfish for potential testing.
Monitoring shellfish in the region is ongoing, and the public will be promptly informed of any changes to the situation, assured Arbuckle. Commercially harvested shellfish, available in shops, supermarkets, or exported, undergoes stringent water and flesh monitoring programs by New Zealand Food Safety to ensure safety for consumption.