Environment & Science

California health officials warn against certain seafood due to harmful toxins

A Dungeness Crab sits in a bin after being offloaded from a fishing vessel on November 17, 2010 in San Francisco, California.
A Dungeness Crab sits in a bin after being offloaded from a fishing vessel on November 17, 2010 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Harmful algal bloom toxins have spread down to Santa Barbara. California state health officials are warning people not to eat certain types of seafood from there.

The state department of health is advising consumers to stay away from any of these food items in Monterey, Santa Cruz or Santa Barbara counties:

Scientists said it’s still unclear how far the algae is going to spread and whether it will make it down to Southern California.
 
“[It’s] not exactly clear if it is marching down the coast, and it will appear down off of L.A. soon, but it’s certainly something we’re aware of and concerned about,” said David Caron, a researcher at the University of Southern California.

The algae bloom was first detected in Monterey Bay, but had been staying out of Southern California. 

Scientists who study the phenomenon have been thrown off by the lateness of this bloom. They time their vessel monitoring to when they’re most likely to see the algae in the water. They say they didn't see anything before — and they don’t have the funding available to go out now.
 
“We’re in an off-cycle. We don’t have endless amounts of money. We have to kind of get our resources together and kind of hope that things happen while we’re able to really closely monitor things,” Caron said. “It’s a very large ocean out there, and coverage is by far our biggest challenge."

Domoic acid accumulation caused by this bloom is a natural occurrence, according to the CDPH. Symptoms of poisoning can occur from 30 minutes after eating toxic seafood up to 24 hours later, they say. Symptoms range all the way up to death, but there haven't been any illnesses reported with the current bloom.
 
Shellfish and other marine life concentrate the toxins. That has deadly consequences for marine mammals that feed on the seafood, and it can also harm humans.
 
Still, there’s little need to worry. The CDPH monitors seafood for toxins. Scientists are also doing weekly monitoring of water off piers.
 
Also, the lateness of the season makes it unlikely it’ll show up down here.
 
“If I had to bet, I would say probably not. Like I say, it’s very late in the year. We’ve never seen it this late in the year. Usually once the water’s warm, we don’t see much in the way of phytoplankton blooms,” Caron said.
 
But it could.

“But you know, this year has been a very anomalous year, so all bets are off, I guess," Caron said.