EUREKA, Calif. (CN) - Crabs are not hip to boiling water, but are surviving the unusually warm waters reported off California's coast and increased levels of the neurotoxin domoic acid, according to the state.
One of the algae at the base of the food chain, Pseudo-nitzschia, is producing the acid, and the reportedly warmer water blamed on El Nino is likely the impetus for a persistent bloom covering an expanse that is larger than ever, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The toxin can become concentrated as critters are successively munched up the food chain.
It can make sea mammals and seabirds sick and sometimes kill them. For people, low levels can cause nausea, diarrhea and dizziness. High levels can cause persistent short-term memory loss, epilepsy and sometimes death, according to the state.
That is why the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Friday delayed the opening of the recreational Dungeness crab season on the northern and cental coast on its opening day.
The California Fish and Game Commission also delayed the start of the commercial Dungeness crab season - which was to open Nov. 15 - on Nov. 5.
The California rock crab fishery, which is usually open year-round, is now closed to recreational and commercial use indefinitely.
These actions follow on the heels of a California Department of Public Health warning on Nov. 3, that people should not eat crabs caught north of the Ventura-Santa Barbara county line due to unsafe domoic acid levels.
The fisheries will remain closed until the state determines the levels no longer pose a significant risk to public health.
Mike Cunningham, a commercial fisherman out of Eureka harbor, has assisted the state with its decisions by bringing crabs to test, he told Courthouse News.
While the crab testing has shown high levels of the neurotoxin since this year's first sampling Sept. 15, Cunningham is continuing to get his crab cages and other gear ready for the season.
It's a natural phenomenon that happens every year, he said. "When conditions change, I guess they expel it."
"Hopefully some storms will cool the water down and the crabs will clean themselves up, and we'll go fishing."
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