The Dungeness crab inhabits eelgrass beds and water bottoms along the west coast of North America and is a popular seafood. (California Department of Fish and Wildlife via Bay City News)

Dungeness crab season is off to a slow start this year, with wildlife and health concerns delaying the commercial harvest by at least a week and prompting safety warnings for recreational fishermen.

The California Department of Public Health advises people catching crab recreationally not to consume the viscera (internal organs or guts) of crab caught in two coastal areas due to the presence of domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin.

The areas covered by the advisory are Point Reyes in Marin County south to Pillar Point in San Mateo County, and Shelter Cove in Humboldt County south to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

Low levels of domoic acid can cause nausea, diarrhea and dizziness. Higher levels can cause short-term memory loss, seizures and death.

“Please remember to eviscerate any crab caught in these regions prior to cooking” to lower the risk of poisoning, the department said.

The start of commercial Dungeness crab season, originally scheduled to start Nov. 15, has been tentatively pushed back to Nov. 23 because of concerns about the danger to marine life, particularly whales, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

Many different sides, “including fishing, environmental and management agencies,” were consulted before making the preliminary decision to delay the commercial season, said CDFW Director Charlton Bonham.

The earlier date presents “a significant risk of whale entanglements,” according to CDFW.

“We’re happy to see an assessment of whale entanglement risk guiding when crab season opens. But we’re still worried about this crab season because California hasn’t made other key reforms,” said Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Crab gear is still killing humpback whales. With crabbers about to drop thousands of lines into the Pacific, state officials should be doing a lot more to safeguard endangered marine animals,” Monsell said.

For more information on Dungeness crab visit