Thursday, December 3, 2015

Caution for California crab lovers

A nasty little algae has been blooming like crazy lately (thanks, global warming!) and it's having some pretty serious consequences for Dungeness-loving consumers in California. The diatom, Pseudo-nitzschia sp., produces domoic acid, and at the high productivity rate it's experiencing because of warmer ocean conditions, the domoic acid is startin' trouble. When consumed at high concentrations, domoic acid can cause seizures, comas, and death! Yikes! It also causes short-term memory loss, so when people (or animals) get it from eating shellfish, it's known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning. (Remember learning about Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning here?) The domoic acid bioaccumulates in filter feeders like clams, mussels, and crabs (!!!) who just want to munch on some phytoplankton.

"Lay off me, I'm starving!" - Metacarcinus magister (PC Brian Feulner)

Speaking of crabs, California has closed its recreational and commercial crab seasons for both Dungeness and rock crabs because of this domoic acid contamination! This closure not only affects consumers (in a good way, really, because DEATH), but also the fishermen themselves who rely on these crabs for their livelihood. So it's kinda a lose-lose situation at the moment: fishermen lose money and their ability to pay their bills-bills-bills, or consumers run the risk of short-term memory loss, paralysis, and death.

How realistic is this concern? Well, dead sea otters have been reported with domoic acid in their systems, several large whales have washed up dead and the toxic diatom is a suspect (PS, the dog in the 3rd picture is adorable!), and even this little sea lion pup was poisoned in utero:

little Danzig in recovery, lucky guy! (PC Paul Chinn, The Chronicle)

Cuteness aside, it's an issue that needs to be monitored, and all my dungie-loving people out there should remain cautious about where your crab were caught and how they were prepared!