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California Puts Dungeness Crab Season On Hold Indefinitely


Here on the West Coast, along with turkey and trimmings, there's a highly-prized delicacy on some holiday tables - fresh Dungeness crab pulled right out of the Pacific.

BEN PLATT: It's really good, you know? I mean, it's one of the, you know, best crabs in the world as far as we can tell. I mean, I realize I'm biased.

MONTAGNE: Biased he may be because Ben Platt is a commercial fisherman based out of Pillar Point Harbor in San Francisco's Bay Area. Captain Platt was on his boat, the Sea Star, when we reached him with pretty much just elephant seals for company.


MONTAGNE: Those docks should be bustling at this time of year with hungry customers - the human kind - looking for fresh crab.

PLATT: There'll be long lines all the way up the dock and down into the parking lot sometimes if people want to buy, you know, live crab from the fishermen.

MONTAGNE: But this year, California has delayed its Dungeness crabbing season indefinitely - and the culprit - a toxin, Domoic acid. It's found in a massive growth or bloom of algae in the Pacific. Unusually warm water is likely the blame. Kathi Lefebvre studies how toxins travel from algae up the food chain. She says these blooms are common, though usually much smaller and lasting only a couple of weeks.

KATHI LEFEBVRE: This year, we've had this toxic bloom spanning the entire U.S. West Coast - even from Alaska to California, which is making the food web a lot more contaminated.

MONTAGNE: While Domoic acid doesn't kill the Dungeness crab, at such high levels, it's not safe for humans. Don Marshall is another fisherman out of Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco. He says the crabbing delay is hurting more than his wallet.

DON MARSHALL: My family has huge crab feasts every year for Thanksgiving and for Christmas, which most of the time is a lot of my Dungeness because that's what I do for a living.

MONTAGNE: And for Marshall, anything but fresh crab would be unthinkable.

MARSHALL: For Thanksgiving this year, we're probably going to have to go back to the old-school tactics of turkey and ham. And we're going to have to make do. I just don't have it in me to eat frozen crab from last year.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, I know. For now, the wait continues for crabbers and consumers. Along with California, Oregon and Washington have also had to delay the start of their Dungeness crabbing seasons. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.