SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Seafood lovers and California’s commercial fishermen received good news Thursday as tests revealed dropping levels of the dangerous neurotoxin that has temporarily delayed the state’s crab season.
Dungeness crab caught and surveyed from the San Francisco Bay, Half Moon Bay and Morro Bay were found to have safe levels for domoic acid, according to test results from the California Department of Public Health.
Toxic levels of domoic acid found in Dungeness crab and other species like sardines and mussels prompted the unprecedented delay of California’s commercial crab season. State officials suspended the start of the commercial Dungeness crab season – which was to open Nov. 15 – on Nov. 5 for the first time in the state’s history, after testing crab from nine California ports.
A record-setting algal bloom off the Pacific coast is responsible for the high levels of domoic acid that has crept up the Dungeness crab’s food chain. In people, the neurotoxin can cause diarrhea and dizziness and sometimes death, according to the department.
The algal bloom extends from Alaska to Southern California and was sparked by warm Pacific Ocean temperatures averaging 3-5 degrees above normal. The dangerous levels of domoic acid caused officials in Oregon to delay crab season there, and Washington state is also testing Dungeness crab populations before its commercial season begins Dec. 1.
In 2014, commercial fishermen hauled in nearly $170 million worth of Dungeness crab and California’s delay has kept wharfs and harbors unusually quiet.
Mike Cunningham, a commercial fisherman out of Eureka harbor, told Courthouse News on Nov. 8 he’s hoping for cooler water temperatures and a chance to drop his crab cages.
“Hopefully some storms will cool the water down and the crabs will clean themselves up, and we’ll go fishing,” he said.
All of the Dungeness crabs tested since September from the Eureka port revealed unsafe levels of domoic acid, as have 83 percent of the samples from Crescent City port.
While Thursday’s test results are a step in the right direction, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has not hinted when the commercial and recreational crab fishing ban could be lifted.
Last week, the Department of Public Health lifted its advisory on sardines, anchovies and shellfish that were affected by the neurotoxin. Crabs feed on the affected species and according to state officials likely become infected by eating dead anchovies and sardines off the sea floor.