Saturday, July 21 , 2018, 9:23 am | Fog/Mist 65º


Captain’s Log: Warnings About Consuming Channel Islands Shellfish

Be careful what you eat to prevent human poisoning from domoic acid

Here is an important (to shellfish and anchovy/sardine consumers) news release from the California Department of Public Health:

“The California Department of Public Health is advising consumers not to eat recreationally harvested mussels and clams, commercially or recreationally caught anchovy and sardines, or the internal organs of commercially or recreationally caught crab and lobster taken from the northern Channel Islands located offshore of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Dangerous levels of the nerve toxin domoic acid have been detected in some of these species and may be present in the other species not yet tested. Domoic acid is a naturally occurring toxin that can cause illness or death in humans.

“No cases of human poisoning from domoic acid are known to have occurred in California.

“This advisory is in addition to the current health advisory for the same seafood items along the Ventura coast that was issued on Aug. 20 and the annual quarantine on the sport-harvesting of mussels along the entire California coastline that took effect May 1.

“This warning does not apply to commercially sold clams, mussels, scallops or oysters from approved sources. State law only permits state-certified commercial shellfish harvesters or dealers to sell these products. Shellfish sold by certified harvesters and dealers are subject to frequent mandatory testing.

“Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning can occur within 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating toxic seafood. In mild cases, symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache and dizziness. These symptoms disappear within several days. In severe cases, the victim may experience difficulty breathing, confusion, disorientation, cardiovascular instability, seizures, excessive bronchial secretions, permanent loss of short-term memory, coma and death. Visit Annual Mussel Quarantine — Frequently Asked Questions for additional information.”

Where does domoic acid come from? According to a fact sheet from the NOAA, “Domoic acid is a nerve toxin produced by naturally occurring harmful algal blooms (HAB), which are microscopic, single-celled plants that live in the sea. HABs derive their harmful stature because they produce extremely potent neuro-poisons or biotoxins. Most species of algae or phytoplankton are not harmful and serve as the energy producers at the base of the food web, without which much higher life on this planet would not exist.

“Phytoplankton are responsible for converting inorganic molecules into more complex organic nutrients. In turn, these microscopic organisms provide food for the larger organisms higher in the food web, such as fishes and mammals. In HABs, toxic compounds can enter the food wed and accumulate in fish and shellfish. In most cases, fish and shellfish to not appear to be affected by these toxins, but organisms higher in the food web, such as marine mammals and humans, can be made ill or even die.”

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary superintendent Chris Mobley said, “While we encourage visitors to enjoy their fishing experience in the sanctuary, it is important to heed the state’s seafood warnings for our area. Thankfully, there are state-certified commercial shellfish harvesters and dealers providing safe seafood products that are subject to frequent mandatory testing.”

Here is something fascinating about the effects of this periodic natural poisoning. Scientists now suspect that domoic acid poisoning was the cause of a massive bird poisoning in 1961, which resulted in gulls and shearwaters demonstrating frenzied, intoxicated behavior in a Northern California town. This real-life event was the inspiration for the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds.

This will pass and probably soon. Meanwhile, be careful what you eat. With lobster season here, officials advise removing and washing the tail before cooking. Discard the body.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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