Last year, Northern California residents ate very little local Dungeness crab. Because an unprecedented closure kept crabbers out of the water until March, the crustacean didn’t play its traditional Bay Area role at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and even Super Bowl celebrations.
The historic shutdown — and its aftermath — is why fishers, politicians, scientists and fishery managers are already talking about this year’s commercial season, due to open Nov. 15.
So far, there’s good news and bad news: Ocean temperatures are 3 degrees higher than usual, resulting in algal blooms in certain hot spots. But the situation is nothing like last year’s spikes of 8 to 10 degrees above the norm, which led to a massive algal bloom that infected crabs with the neurotoxin domoic acid that forced the closure.
“It’s still warmer than it has been for the last 10 to 15 years; it’s still really good conditions for these blooms,” said Raphael Kudela, an algal bloom specialist and Lynn Professor of Ocean Health at UC Santa Cruz who has been monitoring the ocean’s slow warming trend. Yet, he added, “it’s highly unlikely that we would have a bloom as large as 2015 that would cover the entire coast. It doesn’t seem to be developing that way.”