Restaurants and fishermen alike are suffering as a result of California’s crab crisis, but the consequences could be much greater than not being able to enjoy Dungeness and rock crabs’ sweet, briny meat this year. Public-health officials warned consumers not to eat the crustaceans because they contain domoic acid, a neurotoxin, due to the algae bloom that has resulted from unseasonably warm waters in the Pacific. But there’s no way to stop sea lions from eating these crabs, not to mention the algae-feeding anchovies and sardines that also constitute parts of their diet, and that is already proving to be a major problem for the marine mammals.
Claire Simeone, a conservation medicine veterinarian with the Marine Mammal Center, says that 213 sea lions have been affected by domoic acid poisoning so far this year, which is up from 233 in 2014 — and 80 percent of her sea-lion patients have died as a result of the poisoning. Worse yet is that because ocean temperatures will likely keep rising as a result of global warming, scientists believe more massive blooms on this scale will happen.
That’s bad news not only for the mammals, but also the entire ecosystem. As top predators, sea lions help keep populations of other species under control, and losing enough of them could cause serious issues for their environment.
It’s also far from the only bad news to come out of the Pacific fishery this year: Federal regulators shut down the commercial sardine fisheries in California, Oregon, and Washington in August due to depleted stocks; California’s Chinook salmon fishery was also shut down early because of the state’s awful drought; the Delta smelt, a victim of long-term draining, was accepted to be nearly extinct despite 22 years of conversation efforts; and the fall North American hake catch was a bust because of warming waters.