California Crab Scare Kills Fishing Season

Dungeness Crab (Justin Sullivan / Getty)
Justin Sullivan / Getty

California crab lovers will apparently have to wait a little bit longer to enjoy their favorite dish, as state wildlife officials have delayed the Dungeness crab fishing season and have completely shut down rock crab fisheries after high levels of a neurotoxin were found in crabs all along the Pacific Coast.

On Thursday, the California Fish and Game Commission delayed the start of the recreational crab fishing season after high levels of domoic acid, a dangerous neurotoxin, were found in crabs along the Coast, the Eureka Times-Standard reported.

The following day, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) issued an emergency declaration delaying the start of the Dungeness crab season and shutting down rock crab fisheries until levels of the toxin present in the ocean water can be reduced to normal.

“Crab is an important part of California’s culture and economy, and I did not make this decision lightly,” CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham said in a statement. “But doing everything we can to limit the risk to public health has to take precedence.”

The high levels of the neurotoxin are caused by the unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean, made even warmer by the current El Niño pattern. Large phytoplankton blooms known as red tides thrive in the warm water, and in turn release the domoic acid, which can cause brain damage or even death if consumed by humans.

Local fishermen will reluctantly sit out the start of the crab fishing season, which was supposed to start in mid-November. But Mark McCulloch, manager at Mr. Fish in Eureka, told the Times-Standard that if the problem persists into next year, the public may be dissuaded from eating crab even when the neurotoxin levels dissipate.