Morning name: domoic acid (plus Dungeness crab)

Yesterday’s morning name, domoic acid, was no great surprise, given recent local news about the late opening of the Dungeness crab season. From a story on ABC tv station KGO’s site yesterday:

Officials announced today Dungeness crab season officially opened after the price for local crab was set at $2.90.

Officials said crab fishermen are rushing out to set their traps. However, the trip is a four-hour journey, so they will not be able to bring any crabs back to the Bay Area right away.

The earliest crab may be for sale is on Friday.

Earlier today, crab fisherman took part in a closed-door meeting where officials set the price for crab.

A dangerous neurotoxin [domoic acid] in the crab was to blame for California’s crab season delay. Even after samples were below alert levels in recent weeks, public health agencies recommended people not eat the internal organs of the crab known as butter or guts.

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A Dungeness crab

From Wikipedia on domoic acid:

Domoic acid (DA) is a kainic acid analog neurotoxin that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). It is produced by algae and accumulates in shellfish, sardines, and anchovies. When sea lions, otters, cetaceans, humans etc., then eat contaminated animals poisoning may result. Exposure to the biotoxin affects the brain, causing seizures, and possibly death.

There has been little use of domoic acid throughout history except for in Japan, where it has been used as an anthelmintic for centuries. Domoic acid was first isolated in 1959 from a species of red algae, Chondria armata, in Japan; commonly referred to as “doumoi” (in Tokunoshima [Island]’s dialect word [AHD5 has this as domoi, and it’s the source of the technical name domoic acid]) or “hanayanagi”. Poisonings in history have been rare, or undocumented; however, it is thought that the increase in human activities is resulting in an increasing frequency of toxic algal blooms along coastlines in recent years. Consequently, poisonings have been affecting sea animals, birds, and humans.

From Wikipedia on the Dungeness crab:

The Dungeness crab, Metacarcinus magister (formerly Cancer magister), is a species of crab that inhabits eelgrass beds and water bottoms on the west coast of North America. It typically grows to 20 cm (7.9 in) across the carapace and is a popular seafood prized for its sweet and tender flesh. Its common name comes from the port of Dungeness, Washington.

Culinary use: About one-quarter of the crab’s weight is meat. The flesh has what is considered to be a delicate flavour and slightly sweet taste. Dungeness crabs can typically be purchased either live or cooked. Live crabs are cooked simply by dropping them into boiling salt water, waiting for a boil to return, and then allowing it to continue for 15 minutes, after which time the crabs are removed and placed into cold water to cool, and then cleaned. Another method of preparing crab is called half backing. Half backing is done by flipping the crab upside down and chopping it in half (from head to “tail”), after which the guts and gills can be scooped or hosed out. Many consider half backing to be superior to cooking the entire crab, because the meat is not contaminated by the flavor and or toxins of the guts. Furthermore, half backed crabs boil faster or can be quickly steamed instead of boiled. Two common tools for removing crab meat from the shell are a crab cracker and a shrimp fork. Sometimes, a cleaver, mallet, or small hammer is used for cracking Dungeness crab, but the use of these devices is not recommended, as the integrity of the meat may be compromised due to the impact.

From a food website in January 2010, an illustration of Cioppino-Style Roasted Dungeness Crab prepared from a recipe in bon appétit magazine:

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