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Tasmania this week- Paralytic toxins make major impact on shellfish

by Carl Hyland on 3 Dec 2012
fish Carl Hyland
With the threat of paralytic shellfish toxin (PST) and the banning of taking of shellfish from Tasmania’s East Coast, it looks like crayfish might not be seen on many Christmas tables this year.

Commercial and recreational fishermen remain locked out of the areas from Eddystone Point in the North East to Marion Bay in the South East as the Department of Health continue to monitor shellfish which also includes not only crayfish, but abalone, periwinkles, sea urchins, and crabs.

What this means of course is that many anglers are now turning to areas not affected by the bans and in turn are putting tremendous pressure on unaffected areas. Areas such as the West Coast and North West Coast have seen a great influx of trailer boat fishermen to the area with both hookah and tank diving being a popular way of taking lobster. This means that fishermen are only in the water for a short period of time, getting their quota and moving on.

The health alerts remain in place as I write this and we will advise when they are lifted.

A public health alert against eating wild shellfish from the east coast of Tasmania has been extended, after test results showed that two other types of seafood are being impacted by a toxic species of algae.


People have been advised not to eat wild shellfish from the east coast - from Marion Bay through to Eddystone Point. Testing has now indicated that the paralytic shellfish toxins involved are also present above safe levels in the guts of both rock lobster and abalone, and the health alert now also applies to these species. Do not eat the gut of rock lobster or the gut of abalone taken from the east coast of Tasmania between Marion Bay and Eddystone Point, or recreationally-harvested oysters, clams or mussels.

The flesh of these species is safe to eat provided all gut residues are removed and thoroughly washed off. As a precaution, do not eat periwinkles, sea urchins or crabs from this section of the coast.
The Director of Public Health, Dr Roscoe Taylor, said that while the toxic algal readings are very low, a health alert is necessary. 'It is important to understand that it can take some time for toxins to purge, and purging rates vary between species, so we will be continually testing the toxicity of the affected seafood from these waters,' Dr Taylor said.


Commercial wild catch and aquaculture shellfish resources in the affected area continue to be monitored and closures apply where assessed necessary on the basis of risk.

Dr Taylor said that such closures ensure the Tasmanian produce we buy in shops or export remains safe to eat and maintains its reputation of high quality. In response to the public health risks identified in relation to abalone and rock lobster on the section of the east coast in question, the Minister for Primary Industries and Water is moving to also close the recreational abalone and rock lobster fisheries between Eddystone Point and Marion Bay.
Dr Taylor urged Tasmanian s not to eat the seafood listed from the affected area in the following list because the toxins from the algal bloom could cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. 'Symptoms include tingling in the mouth and extremities, pins and needles, unsteadiness on the feet, weakness of the arms or legs and nausea. Anyone experiencing these symptoms after eating wild seafood from or near the affected area should seek immediate medical attention. 'Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning is rare but it is still important that Tasmanian s follows our advice so they do not get sick,' Dr Taylor said.


Do not eat the following wild harvested seafood from the affected area: Oysters, mussels, clams/pipis, the gut of rock lobster, the gut of abalone, scallop roe, sea-urchins, crabs, periwinkles. Seafood bought from retail outlets is safe to consume.

Cooking does not destroy the toxins.

Dr Taylor said that authorities will be watching this situation closely, so commercial farms and the wild catch fisheries can resume business as soon as possible. For some this may be next week, for others it could take considerably longer.

For more information, go to Public Health Alert website or call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

On the 28th November, some harvesting of Commercial fisheries was allowed to resume in a limited capacity.
Shellfish harvesting has resumed in Great Oyster Bay, Little Swanport and St Helens (Georges Bay) on Tasmania's east coast, but remains subject to intensive monitoring. These areas produce oysters and clams. At this stage mussels from Spring Bay are not harvesting because of the continued presence of toxic cells in concerning levels in Spring Bay.

There are 13 shellfish harvest zones on the east coast that fall within the zone impacted by the toxic algae. There are about 20 growers and wild harvesters in these areas.

These zones are monitored weekly, sometimes more frequently, for toxic algal cells and toxins in the shellfish. This intensive monitoring process allows for harvest management by growing area.

Strict protocols are in place to prevent shellfish with unsafe paralytic shellfish toxins (PST) levels reaching the market. Algae cell counts on the east coast continue to fluctuate and daily management is required.

There was talk of extending the quarantine to include scalefish, but thank goodness this hasn’t been required at this stage!

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