California recreational crabbing season on hold

Story highlights

  • California delays recreational crabbing season due to dangerous levels of domoic acid
  • Domoic acid is naturally occurring toxin that can't be cleaned or cooked away
  • Domoic acid poisoning causes dizziness, vomiting, and in severe cases, death

(CNN)California sport crab fishermen will have to put away their traps for now.

The California Fish and Game Commission voted Thursday to postpone recreational crabbing season, set to start Saturday, "due to the detection of dangerous levels of domoic acid" in waters between southern Oregon and the southern Santa Barbara County line.
Dungeness and rock crabs caught in those waters pose a "significant risk to the public if consumed," the California Department of Public Health said in a statement.
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    Domoic acid is a naturally occurring toxin produced from "some species of the marine diatom Pseudo-nitzschia," the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said.
    A massive bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia, brought by warmer water temperatures associated with the El Niño event, is causing high levels of the acid.
    Marine animals, such as crabs, that filter their food through seawater may accumulate the toxins. While the toxins, which are colorless and odorless, don't seem to harm these animals, people who eat this seafood may become poisoned.
    Neither cleaning nor cooking these foods will rid them of the harmful acid.
    The Department of Fish and Wildlife's Jordan Traverso said crab being sold in stores now is likely safe for consumption since crab season in the area of concern hadn't opened yet.
    Consumers could verify the safety of crab already purchased by contacting stores and confirming where it came from.
    Dwight Eager of Bell Buoy Crab Co. in Chinook, Washington, said the crab his company ships was harvested in an area where the domoic acid levels are "completely fine."
    "I had fancy Dungeness crab legs for dinner last night, and I'm still alive to talk about it," Eager said.
    The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has yet to rule on the status of commercial Dungeness crab season, which barring postponement, will begin November 15.
    Traverso said the last thing her department wants to do is delay or close the season, but she said, "Our main priority is to keep people from getting sick."
    Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning typically begin within 30 minutes to 24 hours of eating toxic seafood, the health department said. They include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, headache, dizziness and confusion.
    In severe cases, symptoms could include difficulty breathing, seizures, coma and death.
    Some survivors of severe cases of domoic acid poisoning have been known to suffer permanent loss of short-term memory, officials said.