Christchurch rivers a ‘no-go’ for whitebaiters

Tuesday August 14, 2012

Christchurch whitebaiters are being warned against fishing in or around the Avon River/Ōtākaro, Heathcote River/Ōpāwaho or Avon-Heathcote Estuary/Ihutai this season.

With the whitebait season beginning tomorrow (August 15), Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey says eating whitebait caught in Christchurch’s waterways is dangerous. 

“People who take whitebait from the Avon or Heathcote not only put themselves and other consumers at risk but also make us question if any whitebait is safe to eat,” Dr Humphrey says.

The latest concern stems from a soon-to-be released ESR report showing silt in the river may now be contaminated with oocycts (eggs) from Giardia, Dr Humphrey says.

“This can cause explosive bloody diarrhoea for months. These tiny eggs can live for years in silt and can be released into the water when the silt is stirred up,” he says.

Giardia can also survive freezing, so once thawed Giardia within the whitebait can contaminate other foods.”

Dr Humphrey says that even before the earthquake Christchurch’s waterways rarely met recreational water standards because they were contaminated with duck and dog faeces.

“Despite this, some people still collected whitebait from the Avon and Heathcote rivers but now there is the additional risk of human faecal contamination as a result of heavy rainfall and sewer pipe repair works.” 

“When the City Council does essential repairs to sewers or when there is flooding, it can occasionally result in sewage and wastewater may be pumped into the rivers. This can result in E. coli (faecal bacteria) concentrations breaching recreational water standards.”

Dr Humphrey says he would also like to remind Cantabrians to avoid contact with waterways for 48 hours after the heavy rainfall the region has been experiencing as it can cause sewerage and storm water pipes to overflow.”

Page last reviewed: 24 July 2013