Toxic Domoic Acid Delays California Spiny Lobster Season Opening (in LA and Orange Counties)

Latest Update October 17, 2023

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has decided to rescind the previous delay after tests showed spiny lobsters no longer pose a significant risk for domoic acid exposure in LA and Orange Counties. This decision was made after samples from Oct. 2 and 9 indicated domoic acid levels were below the concerning federal threshold. Recreational lobster fishing commenced at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, and commercial fishing will begin just before sunrise on Wednesday, Oct. 18. 

Updated October 6, 2023

The much-anticipated opening of California’s spiny lobster season is facing a delay in some local areas due to a concerning public health and environmental issue: elevated levels of domoic acid. This potent neurotoxin is produced by harmful algal blooms, events that are intensifying under the influences of climate change. 

It’s important to emphasize the danger of domoic acid – we recently saw major impacts to marine life from domoic acid poisoning. Domoic acid is produced by Pseudo-nitzschia, a marine algae that seems to flourish under certain ocean conditions. When these toxins accumulate in seafood, particularly shellfish, they can pose serious health risks for humans ranging from nausea to severe neurological impairments and, in extreme cases, exposure can be fatal. Climate change is exacerbating the frequency and severity of these harmful algal blooms, making it a pressing concern. 

The delay impacts both recreational and commercial fishing in certain regions of Los Angeles and Orange counties. Areas surrounding the delay-area are under a health advisory which advises people against consuming spiny lobster viscera (internal organs) and roe (eggs). Cooking does not rid the lobster of these toxins.

Recreational fishing, originally set to commence on September 29, 2023 at 6 p.m., and commercial fishing, beginning October 4, 2023, are both affected. For recreational enthusiasts, the delay is in effect in waters from the northern boundary of the Point Vicente State Marine Conservation Area (off Rancho Palos Verdes) to the Long Beach Breakwater. Meanwhile, commercial areas that are off-limits include waters off Palos Verdes, LA County to Huntington Beach, Orange County. 

The California Spiny Lobster. Source: US National Park Service

The delay will remain in place until toxin levels have decreased. The CA Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), in coordination with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) and CA Department of Public Health (CDPH), will continue to test lobsters and re-open the areas when two lobster samples obtained at least a week apart are below the health hazard threshold. To stay updated about the delay, refer to the CDFW and CDPH websites. Continue following Heal the Bay for coverage of the California spiny lobster season delay. 

The Heal the Bay Angler Outreach team will educate pier anglers on preventing the consumption of lobster contaminated with domoic acid and local fish contaminated with DDT during our visits to various piers in Southern California this season. You can help defend our marine life by volunteering with us

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