Dungeness crab scare: Not quite as dire as you’ve heard

A gigantic bloom of toxic algae off the California coast has forced the shutdown of the Dungeness crab fishery, right before the opening of crab season.

Margo True

Especially at the holidays, Westerners feast on Dungeness crab. Will we this year? (Photograph by Peden+Munk)

We’ve all been hearing the news about the toxic algae bloom off the West Coast and how it might affect the Dungeness crab season, which begins in mid-November. Westerners look forward to feasting on Dungeness during the holidays, so it’s caused quite a lot of concern.

The situation is not as bad as one might think, though. A few hours ago, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to ban recreational crabbing along most of the state’s coast. But there’s no word yet on the commercial fishery.

We checked in with our favorite local source for Dungeness crab, Cook’s Seafood in Menlo Park, to get a seafood seller’s perspective. “We’ll get crab from Washington and Alaska, like we’ve been doing,” we were told. (The Washington season opened three months ago, and Alaskan crab started up a month ago; so far, their crab fisheries are not affected.) “As for the local crab, we’ll let it play itself out.” In other words, crab lovers will still be able to get crab, although it might get pricey if there’s a shortage.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) will be regularly testing levels of toxicity in our waters and issuing updates. With any luck, the algae will recede at some point soon, the commercial fishery will open shortly thereafter, and Dungeness crab will emerge in time for the holidays.

We’d certainly celebrate that at Sunset, since our December issue features a beautiful Dungeness crab story, sent off to the printer weeks ago. Fingers crossed!