Indefinite delay to commercial crab season

The commercial Dungeness crab season, which was scheduled to start later this month, has been delayed due to concerns about high levels of toxins caused by algae, state fish and wildlife officials announced Friday.

The commercial rock crab fishery, which is open year round, is also closed, California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said.

The announcement follows a unanimous emergency vote on Thursday by the California Fish and Game Commission to delay the start of the recreational fishing season for Dungeness and rock crabs as well.

The recreational season for Dungeness crab was scheduled to start Saturday, and the commercial season on Nov. 15.

The closure will remain in effect indefinitely until testing determines that levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin that can accumulate in shellfish and other invertebrates, have returned to safe levels, officials said.

The fishing ban comes after a California Department of Public Health advisory issued on Tuesday warned 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.

State biologists have been testing domoic acid levels in crabs since September, officials said Friday. Recently, tests on crabs from nine different ports from Santa Barbara to Crescent City found domoic acid levels exceeding the state’s action level, according to state wildlife officials.

Domoic acid 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.