Rising Ocean Temperatures Could Increase Dangerous Shellfish Toxin
West Coast crab fishermen just ended an 11-day strike over a price dispute. But a more ominous and long-term threat to their livelihood may be on the horizon. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found a link between warming ocean conditions and a dangerous neurotoxin that builds up in sea life: domoic acid.
Seafood lovers got a glimpse of that threat in 2015, when record high ocean temperatures and lingering toxic algae blooms raised the domoic acid in shellfish to unsafe levels, shutting down the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery from Alaska to Southern California for several months. Though less dramatic, the problem emerged again this season, when harvesting was again delayed for portions of the coasts.
Domoic acid is a toxin produced by Pseudo-nitzschia, a micro algae which can accumulate in species like Dungeness crab, clams, mussels and anchovy. It can be harmful to both humans and wildlife, including sea lions and birds. Remember the famous Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds? It was inspired by a real-life incident of California seabirds driven into a frenzy by the neurotoxin.
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