Warnings for Christchurch whitebaiters

Last updated 11:20 05/08/2011

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Christchurch whitebaiters are being warned off fishing in the city's main rivers this season as the waterways remain contaminated with sewage.

Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey said there were warnings against the gathering of fish or shellfish in or around the Avon and Heathcote rivers, or from the Avon-Heathcote Estuary.

The warning has been in place since the February 22 earthquake.

"With the whitebait season beginning on August 15, it is important that local whitebaiters continue to heed the warnings against fishing," Humphrey said.

Damage to the city's sewerage and wastewater systems have meant discharges of untreated sewage have been made into the rivers and estuary. This will continue "for some time".

Humphrey said any whitebait caught in these three waterways would 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.

"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 more serious diseases such as hepatitis A, giardia, cryptosporosis, campylobacter and salmonella, which can cause serious illness such as liver and kidney failure, were possible.

Fishing for whitebait in the Waimakiriri, Halswell and Styx rivers and any rivers north of the Waimakiriri or south of Lyttelton Harbour was safe.

If people see anyone whitebaiting in the Avon and Heathcote rivers or the estuary, Humphrey asks them to notify Community and Public Health.

Public are advised to:

- not drink water from the rivers or estuary
- not to use the river or estuary for recreational use, including swimming or boating
- avoid physical contact with water in these waterways

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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