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Dungeness Crabs Not Safe To Eat: California Health Department

Update Date: Nov 05, 2015 10:59 AM EST
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Do not eat Dungeness Crabs, warned the California Department of Public Health on Tuesday, just before the season began on Saturday, according to San Francisco Chronicle.

The Dungeness and rock crabs found and picked up on the coastline had such high levels of domoic acid that it has become very dangerous. The acid is secreted by a single-celled alga, Pseudo-nitzschia, which has bloomed wildly and copiously this year, shooting up the level of domoic acid in the coasts.

The Pseudo-nitzschia bloom this year is the "biggest ever seen" and has also shown a longevity above normal. Experts say the bloom is due to California's warm oceans, according to Daily Mail.

"Recent test results have shown persistently high levels of domoic acid in Dungeness crab and rock crab, which have been caught along the California coastline," the department said in the advisory. "The levels have exceeded the state's action level for the crabs' body meat as well as the viscera, commonly referred to as crab butter, and therefore pose a significant risk to the public if they are consumed."

Domoic acid begins to strike about 30 minutes to 24 hours after it is eaten. The symptoms include: "diarrhea, headache, vomiting, abdominal cramps and dizziness. The more severe symptoms include seizures, confusion, difficulty breathing, disorientation and permanent loss of short-term memory. Some cases can result in coma or death," according to the California Department of Public Health.

However, no illnesses due to the consumption of the crabs have so far been reported.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has suggested that the Dungeness crab season should be postponed. The Fish and Game Commission will discuss the points in a meeting soon.

"Delaying or closing the season is disappointing," Craig Shuman, marine regional manager of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "But public health and safety is our top priority."

The warning will affect commercial crabbers, who are trickling into the Bay Area from Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Crabbers depend on this season for their income, and delaying or closing off the crabs for consumption will affect them.

"Those who aren't boat owners will say it's a disaster," Mike Dvorak, captain of the vessel High Seas, said. "They won't know what to tell their families."

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