Climate Change May Be Coming for Our Dungeness Crabs

By Mike Pomranz |

© B Christopher / Alamy Stock Photo

Whether you choose to accept the opinion held by the majority of the scientific community that climate change is a problem caused by man is up to you; however, the sense that climate change is beginning to become a problem for man, even in the culinary world, is becoming more undeniable.

Yesterday, we saw how global warming is ruining one of the world’s most lauded beers, Cantillon. And now, news today that rising water temperatures are probably to blame for why the California health department has told people not to eat Dungeness crab caught along the state’s coast.

This morning, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife held an emergency meeting during which they announced a 180-day ban on recreational Dungeness crab fishing. Barring any sort of unforeseen circumstances, that ban will be extended to commercial crab fishing when the season is set to start in a week or two.

So what’s behind the ban? Domonic acid – a naturally occurring toxin, produced by algae that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and headache. In extremely severe cases, it can even cause death, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Officials say they aren’t sure why the algae responsible for the toxin have bloomed this year, but many people are linking the toxin-producing plant to this summer’s warmer water temperatures.

Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told the Sacramento Bee that it’s all linked to El Niño. “Historically, we see blooms during and after the El Niño,” he said. “So it’s quite possible that next year will be another big bloom year and possibly just as toxic or more toxic. So, at that point, three years in a row, it starts to become the new normal.” A paper published last year claims that greenhouse warming is likely the cause behind El Niño’s increasing frequency, helping to explain why this “new normal” may be happening now.

Regardless of the reasons, this year’s algae bloom is one of the largest ever. “This is unprecedented in terms of the extent and magnitude of this harmful algal bloom and the warm water conditions we’re seeing offshore,” Vera Trainer, who works at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said back in June of the problem which extends across the entire West Coast. “Whether they’re related we can’t really say yet, but [ongoing research] gives us the opportunity to put these pieces together.”

For now, just don’t eat any Dungeness crabs you pull out of the Pacific Ocean.

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