Crab season delayed over neurotoxin

The California Fish and Game Commission voted Thursday morning to delay the start of recreational fishing for Dungeness crab and to close rock crab fisheries, just two days before the season was officially scheduled to start.

During an emergency meeting held at 8 a.m. in Sacramento, the commission voted 3-0, prohibiting people from recreationally fishing for crab from ocean waters, including bays and estuaries north of the Ventura and Santa Barbara County lines, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The vote comes after the California Department of Public Health issued an advisory Tuesday, warning people not to consume crabs caught in waters between the Oregon border and the southern Santa Barbara County line because of high levels of domoic acid found in crab meat and viscera, also known as crab butter.

Recently, biologists tested crabs at eight ports from Morro Bay to Crescent City and determined that domoic acid levels are exceeding the state’s action level, according to state wildlife officials.

Domoic acid is a neurotoxin that can accumulate in shellfish and other invertebrates. It can cause illness and sometimes death in birds and marine mammals that consume affected organisms, wildlife officials said.

In humans, exposure to low levels of domoic acid can cause nausea, diarrhea and dizziness. Exposure to high levels can result in persistent short-term memory loss, epilepsy and in some cases death, according to wildlife officials.

The high levels of domoic acid are attributed to a massive toxic bloom of algae called Pseudo-nitzschia developing along the California coast.

Although algae blooms in the ocean are common, this particular bloom is large and persistent, most likely caused by warmer ocean water temperatures and El Nino weather conditions the state is experiencing, according to wildlife officials.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife is also currently considering whether to delay or restrict the start of the commercial Dungeness crab season, which is scheduled to start Nov. 15, department officials said.