El Niño—already being blamed for bringing venomous snakes to the California coastline—could be at it again, as state health officials warned of poisonous crabs Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The warning to avoid eating any crabs caught along the Northern California coast couldn't come at a worse time, as the recreational Dungeness crab season is scheduled to start Saturday, with the commercial season following a week later. According to CNN, the health department found Dungeness and rock crabs contaminated with high levels of domoic acid during routine testing. Mild symptoms of eating the tainted crabs include vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches, the Chronicle reports. The severe symptoms are permanent memory loss, seizures, and death.
CNN reports cooking and cleaning tainted crabs won't make them safer to eat, and state officials will hold an emergency meeting Thursday to debate delaying the start of Dungeness crab season. “Delaying or closing the season is disappointing,” one official tells the Chronicle. “But public health and safety is our top priority.” Commercial crabbers from as far away as Alaska are already arriving in California for the season, which they count on for up to half of their annual income. "It’s going to be devastating," one crabber tells the Chronicle. Boat owners are blaming warm El Niño waters for the increase in domoic acid, and state officials have no idea when the toxic bloom will dissipate.