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Rock and Dungeness Crab Safe to Eat in Certain Areas of California

Update Date: Jan 01, 2016 09:48 AM EST

Crab lovers in California can somewhat rejoice.

State officials have lifted the ban on rock and Dungeness crabs that are caught along the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties' coast. The recreational and commercial fisheries in these areas have been given the red light by the State Department of Fish and Wildlife to reopen.

Crabs that are caught from counties north of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo and counties up to the Oregon border are still considered to be unsafe for consumption. Fisheries in this region are not allowed to reopen.

The California Department of Public Health Director, Dr. Karen Smith, is advising people to only eat the flesh of the crab. The internal organs, which are also generally called the "butter" or "guts," should be discarded prior to cooking because the organs typically have higher levels of the toxin. Smith is also recommending that people throw out the liquid used to cook the crabs.

Before the announcement on Thursday, officials had banned crabs from all menus across the state due to the high levels of a toxic byproduct of an alga, called Pseudo-nitzchia. Officials believe that the El Niño weather pattern caused alga to bloom excessively this year.

The State Department of Public Health initially issued the warning after detecting high and unsafe levels of the toxin, domoic acid, in ocean waters back in November. Domoic acid, which is a neurotoxin, can cause nausea, diarrhea and dizziness. When exposed to very high levels, the toxin can lead to seizures and even death. Symptoms of poisoning typically occur within 24 hours.

Domoic acid is not toxic to shellfish.

No illnesses from eating crabs were reported in 2015.

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