Recreational crab season opens, officials issue warning about neurotoxin

The recreational Dungeness crab season starts Saturday in California, but it comes with a warning. The start of commercial crab season, meanwhile, will likely be delayed.

The California Department of Public Health advises people catching crab recreationally not to consume the viscera (internal organs or guts) of crab caught in two coastal areas due to the presence of domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin.

The areas covered by the advisory are Point Reyes in Marin County south to Pillar Point in San Mateo County, and Shelter Cove in Humboldt County south to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

Low levels of domoic acid can cause nausea, diarrhea and dizziness. Higher levels can cause short-term memory loss, seizures and death.

"Please remember to eviscerate any crab caught in these regions prior to cooking" to lower the risk of poisoning, the department said.

The start of commercial Dungeness crab season, originally scheduled to start Nov. 15, has been tentatively pushed back to Nov. 23 because of concerns about the danger to marine life, particularly whales, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said Friday.

Many different sides, "including fishing, environmental and management agencies," were consulted before making the preliminary decision to delay the commercial season, said CDFW Director Charlton Bonham.

The earlier date presents "a significant risk of whale entanglements," according to CDFW.

"We're happy to see an assessment of whale entanglement risk guiding when crab season opens. But we're still worried about this crab season because California hasn't made other key reforms," said Kristen Monsell, oceans programlegal director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Crab gear is still killing humpback whales. With crabbers about to drop thousands of lines into the Pacific, state officials should be doing a lot more to safeguard endangered marine animals."

The CDFW said that "Before enacting the proposed management measure, Director Bonham will consider any recommendations or new information provided by 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. Anyone with recommendations and information related to this preliminary determination should submit it to by that deadline."

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