As was suggested earlier this week, the local Dungeness season may not even happen at all this year because of a toxic red algae bloom along the Pacific Coast. The recreational crab season, scheduled to begin this weekend, was postponed indefinitely by the California Fish and Game Commission in an emergency meeting Thursday, as the Chron reports. An official decision about the commercial crabbing season has not yet been announced, but all signs point to an indefinite suspension there, too the commercial crab fishing season is supposed to begin next week, with the first crabs arriving in stores November 15.
As of now, recreational fisherman are banned from harvesting crabs from Oregon down to Santa Barbara, indefinitely.
At issue is a dangerous and sometimes deadly neurotoxin, domoic acid, that is produced in red algae blooms and consumed by crustaceans, small fish, and bivalves. (Even more dangerous than crabs during these algae blooms are local mussels and clams, which are consumed whole, digestive tracts and all, delivering even more of the poison to humans.) Domoic acid was found in high levels in crabs in eight different ports along the coast, prompting this week's decision and a likely decision next week about commercial crabbing by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. And even crab fishermen are behind this, since people getting deathly sick from eating crab is no good for business.
Domoic acid, which can not be cooked away even at high temperatures, can cause seizures, brain damage, and even death in humans.
Humans aren't the only ones to suffer here though, but at least we have the wherewithal to avoid eating the stuff. As Wired reports, domoic acid can be blamed for the many sick and dead sea lions that have been found along the coast this year. Sea lions prey on small fish like anchovies and sardines, which eat the algae and are full of domoic acid during these blooms, and sea lions eat crabs as well. The Marine Mammal Center has so far seen over 200 cases of domoic acid poisoning in sea lions this year, up from just 63 in 2013 and similarly, during the El Nino season in 1998, cases of sea lions having seizures on California beaches were widespread.
The widespread deaths of marine mammals this summer, including dolphins found dead on Ocean Beach in July, could be attributable to this.
Water temperatures are now 7 degrees above what they'd normally be at this time of year, and according to one local fisherman quoted by the Chron, this is the worst he's seen in his 30-year career here.
The commercial crab season is likely to be halted until at least January, when the ocean temperature should cool and algae bloom will dissipate.
What will this mean for your Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, and/or your Dungeness crab salads on restaurant menus? They're just going to get a lot more expensive, because wholesalers will need to begin bringing crab in from Washington and Alaska a lot earlier than usual. Local Dungeness can be about $3 a pound cheaper at the wholesale level than the imported stuff, when it's plentiful.