Last year's disastrous local Dungeness crab season in which fisheries were not allowed to open until March, typically the natural end of the season in these parts is not likely to be repeated as the algal blooms associated with above-normal ocean temperatures on the Pacific coast look to be occurring only in hot spots, and may dissipate by the time the crabbing season typically begins around November 15. As the Chronicle reports, while ocean temps are three degrees above average, that's nothing compared to the eight to ten-degree spikes that were seen around this time last year, and crab fisherman and state officials are cautiously optimistic that health risks related to the domoic acid in all that red algae won't delay crab season as much this year.
The Bay Area has long associated the first appearance of local Dungeness crab with the Thanksgiving holiday, and December and January are traditionally rife with crab dishes on restaurant menus. But this year, any crab you may have eaten likely came from Alaska or points north, as pretty much the entire west coast crab fishery was shut down last fall due to concerns about domoic acid poisoning. The toxin, which crabs ingest via algae, remains in crabs' organs and intestines for extended periods and can't always be cooked away.
There were no reports of domoic acid poisoning in humans this past season, but that may be due to the vigilance of the state's Fish and Game Commission, who delayed the opening of crab season repeatedly until virtually all the crab found off the coast was found to exhibit low levels of the toxin.
Officials now say that regardless of where hot spots may linger with these algal blooms a warning regarding mussels and rock crab caught off the coast of Half Moon Bay was just issued August because of such a hot spot they likely won't have to shut down fishing on the entire coast.
"We think that there are particular regions that the bloom tends to develop, retentive areas," says UC Santa Cruz professor Raphael Kudela, an algal bloom specialist, speaking to the Chron. And so far it looks like the SF Bay and the area around the Farallones are not one of those regions, at least this year.
"What we’ve learned from this year is not each area of the coast should be treated equally," says State Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who serves as chairman of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture.
Hopefully that translates to consumer warnings as the crab season begins, but not all-out shutdowns of fisheries which might mean crab back on the table this Thanksgiving.
Experts explains that if domoic acid levels remain below a certain threshold, Dungeness crab ought to be safe to eat if it's gutted and cleaned before cooking. The toxin, they argue, doesn't remain in the meat itself, and they compare it to the necessity of cooking chicken before eating it.