California Dungeness Crab Could Poison You


Dungeness and Rock crab season may be postponed or cancelled due to high levels of a toxin discovered in their meat. (

California residents are being warned not to eat any crabs that are caught along the West Coast this year.  Because of high levels of a potentially lethal toxin, the popular California Dungeness crab could poison you.  Rock crabs also pose a similar danger.

The recreational crab season is scheduled to open on Saturday, November 7.   The California Department of Public Health has reported that high levels of Domoic acid, the potentially deadly toxin that concerns officials, has been found in both Dungeness crab and rock crab which have been caught along the coast from Oregon to south Santa Barbara County.

The state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recommends the state’s rock crab fishery should be closed down and the Dungeness crab fishing season be delayed.

The Fish and Game Commission is holding an emergency meeting the evening of Thursday, Nov. 4, 2015, to discuss the environmental health hazard recommendations.

Craig Shuman, a spokesperson for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, released a statement saying, “Delaying or closing the season is disappointing, but public health and safety is our top priority.”

Dangers Posed by Domoic Acid

If only a small amount of Domoic Acid is consumed by a person who eats crab meat, it can cause abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness and a headache  These symptoms can last for several days.

If a large amount of the toxin is consumed, it can result in permanent short-term memory loss, difficulty breathing, confusion, disorientation, seizures, coma and death.

It can take from 30 minutes until 24 hours before the poisoning symptoms begin to show up.

Commercial crabbing begins on Nov. 15.  During the season, many crabbers earn half their annual income.  Closing the crab season will have a devastating economic effect on crabbers who have already been arriving in the San Francisco Bay Area from Alaska, Oregon and Washington.  Collectively, the crabbers gross about $60 million during the crab fishing season.
Restaurants will also suffer losses if they are unable to include this popular food item on their menus.  Some restaurants, such as Scomoa’s on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, sell 40 to 60 Dungeness crabs a day … and more during the holidays.  Restaurants have the option of flying in crabs from other areas, although this is an expensive option.
What Causes the Toxin Found in the Crab?

In recent months, warm coastal waters have been blamed for the deaths of millions of starfish, as well as the small crabs that are served in restaurants as langostino.

The warm water has contributed to toxic blooms along the coast, including the bloom that is causing this toxin.  This summer, water temperatures along the central coast of California have averaged 60 degrees or higher.  In a typical year, they average about 54 degrees.

The warmer water allows a tiny plant called Pseudo-nitzschia to bloom.  The Domoic acid is a natural toxin found in that plant.  Officials do not know how long the plant will continue to bloom.  Consequently, they have not yet decided whether to stop or simply postpone the crab season.

You can read the official warning from the California Department of Public Health website here:


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