New Zealand has a strong cultural relationship with the oceans. The recreational gathering of coastal seafood such as mussels, pāua, pipi and cockles has strong traditional origins with Māori but it is practised by members of communities across all sectors of society.
Eating seafood exposes the consumer to a range of health risk factors, including microbiological and chemical contaminants. There are strict regulations around microbiological and chemical contamination for commercially grown shellfish species to ensure the safety of the consumer. However, guidelines for recreational shellfish gathering, involves only the assessment and monitoring of the bacterial quality of the gathering waters, and do not take into account the different types of kai gathered.
Whilst it is easier to monitor and maintain suitable conditions for commercial fisheries because of their carefully selected sites and close management practices, recreational gathering sites are in numerous locations, with very varied and commonly unmonitored environments. It would therefore be beneficial to have a more bespoke system for the determining the safety of the shellfish.
Since the current guidelines were established (2003) there has been a significant increase in the knowledge in the area of health risks and environmental contamination levels, as well as an advance in the methods available to assess the levels of contamination.
ESR's Recreational Shellfish Gathering Guidelines project aims to determine where improvements can be made to the guidelines to better protect the public from risks associated with the collection and consumption of these foods. This includes, but is not limited to, which indicators are most indicative of shellfish contamination, the need for site-specific factors and the role local and historical knowledge can play in understanding the potential risks at different sites and with different species.