California Crabbing Delayed Due to Rise in Water Toxins

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By Jon Schuppe and Miguel Almaguer

Put down that drawn butter.

A spike in toxins on the California coast has prompted officials to delay the start of crab season.

Normally, recreational fishers would start harvesting Dungeness crabs on Saturday, and commercial fishers a week later. But the season was thrown into chaos after authorities found a massive bloom of coastal algae that produces a neurotoxin called domoic acid.

The toxin accumulates in shellfish, and can sicken or kill people who eat it.

This week, officials found high levels of domoic acid in samples of Dungeness crab and rock crab, leading them to recommend that fisheries be closed.

Related: Toxic Algae May Threaten West Coast Marine Economy for Years

On Thursday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to delay the start of the fishing season.

An outright cancellation may follow, depending on whether the toxin levels decline to safe levels.

“When it’s clear, we’ll get the fisheries open as soon as possible,” said Sonke Mastrup, the executive director of the commission, told the Sacramento Bee.

Authorities have said that the algae bloom is linked to a rise in ocean temperatures.

Fishermen told NBC News that their livelihoods depend on the crab harvest, and the holiday season is the biggest time of year.

Commercial Dungeness crab harvests were valued last year at $60 million in California, and recreational crabbing generated millions more in economic activity, California Fish and Wildlife Department spokesman Jordan Traverso told Reuters.

Reuters contributed.