Whitebait from Christchurch rivers tainted

RISKY: Whitebaiters are being warned of the dangers of fishing in Christchurch’s polluted rivers.
RISKY: Whitebaiters are being warned of the dangers of fishing in Christchurch’s polluted rivers.

Health authorities are urging Christchurch whitebaiters to avoid eating fish caught in the city's rivers as they are "still open sewers" after the earthquakes.

Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey said whitebaiters should not fish in the Avon and Heathcote rivers this season because of the ongoing risk of infection from high levels of E.coli (faecal bacteria).

Humphrey said cooking the whitebait would not remove the risk and thawing out frozen whitebait could also cause infection by contaminating chopping boards and utensils.

Christchurch's rivers were a "great source of pleasure" for many Cantabrians and had long been used for sport and recreation and as a source of food, but they were "far from clean", Humphrey added.

"Every time it rains, what is on our streets washes into our rivers."

Faeces from ducks and dogs were the two biggest causes of contamination in the city's rivers, although the number of ducks had decreased since the earthquakes because there were fewer people feeding them and the rivers' banks were not being mowed as often.

Humphrey urged dog owners to be responsible and clean up after their pets to avoid contaminating the rivers further.

"It's something we should all do if we want to improve the quality of the rivers."

Earthquake damage to the city's drains had also affected the quality of the Avon and Heathcote rivers by allowing raw sewage to flow in after heavy rain.

New Zealand's annual whitebait season runs from August 15 to November 30 in all places except the West Coast and Chatham Islands.

The Timaru Herald