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'New York Times' Writer Finds the Bright Side in the Dungeness Crab Crisis

The toxic bloom is a terrible sign, but makes for a terrific symbol.


With the holidays come three things: seasonal lattes, exorbitantly expensive plane tickets, and, if you live in San Francisco, Dungeness crab. The beginning of crab season normally brings dozens of recreational crabbers, and their flotillas of kayaks and longboards, to Baker Beach for a crustaceous free-for-all, but all that got put on hold yesterday when the Office of Environmental Health Hazard cautioned against eating any crab whatsoever caught along much of the California coast. The culprit is domoic acid, a neurotoxin released by an enormous algae bloom that’s been thriving in part thanks to the Pacific’s unusually warm temperatures this year. 

The Bernal Heights–based writer Daniel Duane, whom you will remember from his much, much talked about New York Times essay on the sad state of the California dream, actually sees a bright side here (sort of!). “I wonder if these sorts of losses can help,” he tells San Francisco. “Climate change is so vast, and it’s so hard to get your mind around. It’s hard to feel any consequence of it in a day-to-day way—that’s one of the things that makes it very hard to generate the political power to do anything about it.” 

It may be a long way from canceled crabbing plans to aggressive climate legislation hitting Speaker Paul Ryan’s desk; let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But the thought of a crabless November does smart more than, say, imagining incremental sea rise. “It’s not so tragic that people can’t eat crab—there are more important things to worry about," says Duane. "But immediate and tangible changes in the quality of life give us a concrete way of thinking about the health of an ecoystem.” Yay? 

Though the crab-toxifying bloom has died down, it persists in sediment and leads to bioaccumulation in crab meat, as KQED points out. And while El Niño will probably not save us from the drought anytime soon, it could churn the ocean waters enough to flush the toxins away. It will still take additional time for the crab to expel the toxin from their systems, though.

Duane, for one, is trying to look on the bright side, noting that the domoic acid at least does not kill the critters. But Duane's dark California dream of crab soon reasserts itself. “It’s awfully sad for the marine mammals out there," he says, "like the sea lions that don’t have their own government agency doing domoic acid tests.”


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