Lobster season is typically a time of excitement, as hunters prepare to dip into the sea and scour the ocean floor for the tasty crustaceans.
But restrictions and warnings in parts of Southern California could put a damper on this year’s upcoming season opener, with recent tests of spiny lobsters off of Los Angeles County’s coast showing high levels of domoic acid, which can cause illness if the critters are consumed.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife put out an announcement about delays to the season’s kick off, set this year for 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, for recreational diving and hoop netting, followed by the commercial fishery on Oct. 4.
State health agencies recommended the delayed opening of the recreational and commercial fishery in areas between Point Vicente in Palos Verdes and the westernmost point of the Long Beach Breakwater, with advisories extending north to Redondo Beach and south to near Huntington Beach.
Commercial fishing would be delayed in state waters off Palos Verdes to Huntington Beach.
The delays are contingent upon additional sampling, with results expected later this week. If those tests come in below the threshold for a health hazard, the delays may be lifted.
The earliest the delays could be removed would be Friday, just before the recreational season opens.
Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin produced by pseudo-nitzschia, a naturally occurring single-celled, marine alga, under certain ocean conditions.
Domoic acid can accumulate in shellfish, other invertebrates and sometimes fish without the organism becoming ill themselves, CDFW officials said.
Over the summer, a toxic algae bloom caused domoic acid poisoning in hundreds of sea lions and dolphins, overwhelming marine rescue centers in Los Angeles and Orange counties with sick animals. Many animals died from the poisoning, but officials are not sure it is the same bloom that caused higher levels in the lobsters tested.
At low levels, domoic acid exposure can cause nausea, diarrhea and dizziness in humans. At higher levels, it can cause persistent short-term memory loss, seizures and can in some cases be fatal.
State and federal laws prohibit the commercial distribution of seafood products that contain domoic acid levels above the federally mandated threshold, which is 20 parts per million in the viscera of spiny lobster.
Lobster Mobster festivities are still planned Friday at Dive N’ Surf in Redondo Beach, where each year lobsters captured are brought in and weighed between 6 p.m. on opening night – always on the Friday preceding the first Wednesday in October – and 9 a.m. the following morning, with prizes handed out for the biggest catch.
Alex Stys, dive department manager, said she plans on sharing the health hazard information with customers, encouraging a “catch and release” if lobsters are captured in impacted areas.
In its 47th year, the event draws an estimated 200 people, some who have been participating since the beginning. She said she knows lots of people who freeze their lobsters “to have them as long as they can.”
Also, lobster diving boat charters will not be canceled, Stys said, but will travel north toward the Hermosa Beach reef. She said sales for gear may be impacted due to the closures and advisories, but she doesn’t expect the delayed opening of the season to “affect very much.”
Brad Thompson, executive member for spearfishing group OC Spearos, said he understands delaying the commercial activity, but for personal catch, he would prefer the state only issue advisories and let people take their own risks, he said.
He plans to gather “bugs,” as the lobsters are called, further south, he said, but the season opener is already the busiest day of lobster hunting so areas outside the advisories may be even more popular than usual.
“It’s going to be a zoo,” he said. “It’s going to definitely impact the areas outside of the closure area.”