Commercial and recreational crab seasons close before they even start due to health concerns.
Anyone in California who is looking to fish for Dungeness and rock crab anytime soon is going to be out of luck.
Rock crab season is open year-round and the commercial season for Dungeness crabs was scheduled to open Nov. 15, but has now been put on hold, affecting a $60 million fishing industry from north of Santa Barbara to the Oregon border.
Their reason is a good one; algae blooms have made the crabs dangerous for human consumption.
“This bloom has been unprecedented in its extent and its persistence,” Clarissa Anderson, a research scientist with the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, told NPR.
“It started in May and continued on to September. And while we were expecting such a bloom in the spring and even into the summer, as has happened in years past, we did not really expect to see this continue into September.”
NPR reports the blooms are the result of organisms called Pseudo-nitzschia. The marine organism produces a dangerous neurotoxin called domoic acid. This acid can lead to vomiting, diarrhea or even death in humans. Anderson explained that higher temperatures in the waters off the coast are likely contributing to the bloom.
Crabs are especially susceptible to the bloom because of the toxins present in bottom sediment that the crabs feed upon.
The bad news for the commercial fishing industry is the fact that scientists aren’t exactly sure how long it will take for the crabs to flush the dangerous domoic acid from their bodies.
“We don’t have great data on the clearance rate of domoic acid from crabs,” Anderson said. “We know that they will clear it out naturally via their kidneys and they will excrete it. But we don’t know just how long it will take if they continue to acquire it and feed an environment where there is a lot of domoic acid.”
California Fish and Wildlife said public safety was the primary reason for shutting the seasons down in a press release on their website.
“Crab is an important part of California’s culture and economy, and I did not make this decision lightly,” California Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham said in the release.
But doing everything we can to limit the risk to public health has to take precedence.
Fish and Wildlife additionally said in the release they plan to continue to monitor the situation with the director of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the director of the California Department of Public health until they determine the levels of domoic acid no longer pose a public threat.