Dungeness crab not safe to eat due to toxic algae bloom

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KGO) -- The recreational Dungeness crab season was supposed to start on Saturday, but unfortunately it could now be delayed because of a toxic algae bloom.

California health officials said the Dungeness crab caught between southern Oregon and Santa Barbara is unsafe to eat.

READ MORE: Toxic algae threatens crab season in California

From the Oregon border to Point Conception, to the pots and restaurants of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, the annual wait for Dungeness crab looks as if it is about to last at least a little longer.

El Nino may to to blame as its created warmer waters that prompted the largest algae bloom we've ever seen.

It has raised what experts call domoic acid levels in Dungeness crab, rendering them toxic and dangerous to eat, according to California's Department of Public Health. "All I know is it is related to the temperature of the water and the algae bloom and crabs are filter feeders. They're just living in the environment where it is and it builds up in their system," fisherman Geoff Bettencourt said.

Bettencourt hails from a family that has crabbed for more than a century. Commercial crab season should begin in just 11 days, but now he's expecting an indefinite suspension from the U.S. Department of Fish and Game. "We don't want to put a bad product on the market and if the food and health say it's not ready, we don't want to catch it," Bettencourt said.

You can't see or taste the toxic acid, which resides mostly in the crab butter and less in the meat. It's enough to make a person sick, but it's not deadly.

Right now, the only Dungeness crab for sale comes from Washington State and it sells at $14 a pound. It may be all we can get for a while. "I would have a full tank downstairs and upstairs, close to 1,000 pounds of crab," Princeton Seafood Company's Ron O'Connor said. But right now all anyone has is empty tanks and empty boats.

"when the crabs are clean we will go get them, it's that simple," Bettencourt said.

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