One of the Bay Area’s, and indeed the whole state of California’s, favorite winter treat is our beloved Dungeness crab. Plucked from the cold waters off our Northern California coastline, the sweet and succulent meat from this sustainable crustacean is traditionally enjoyed once the season opens in mid-November through to the spring. But how good is it for us, really? And if it has any nutritional benefits, aren’t we still worried about high levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin found in the crab that has cancelled Dungeness season in the past? And perhaps most important of all, is it a sustainable seafood choice? Let’s take a look at some of these unexpected answers.
First off, Dungeness crab is surprisingly healthy. It has a relatively low calorie content, clocking in at just 93 calories for every 3 ounces, with a whopping 19 grams of protein packed in there as well! Plus, it’s chock-full of essential vitamins and minerals, providing 147% dv of B12, 31% dv of zinc, and 58% dv of selenium. Also the very act of eating Dungeness, usually requiring a claw cracker and a thin fork to fish the meat out from the shell, takes a bit of time and effort, causing us to eat slower and more mindfully.
Where we go wrong with Dungeness is when we drown it in melted butter or plunge it into a chowder full of cream and potatoes. Try swapping your drawn butter for a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for a heart-heathy alternative that is still plenty delicious, especially if you use a fragrant, high-quality olive oil. Or pile it on a mound of chopped endive and dollop with a bit of pureed avocado—delicious and nutritious!
Image Credit: @cj_mojica
So we know that Dungeness is remarkably good for us. But what about this domoic acid business we keep hearing about? In 2015, the Dungeness Crab season was closed because very high levels of the neurotoxin were found in the crabs. This was linked to unusually warm ocean temperatures, and the season didn’t full open until March of 2016. This year’s domoic acid readings are within normal limits for most parts of the coastline, and we were lucky enough to have our season begin right on time on November 15! So the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has given us the green light, with the caveat that we should still probably avoid eating the internal organs, or viscera, of the crabs, as some are still showing higher-than-usual levels.
Great! Dungeness is nutritious and safe to eat. But how does it impact the environment, and is it a sustainable seafood? Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program gives Dungeness Crab a yellow “Good Alternative” rating. This is based mainly on the fact that whales can get occasionally get caught up in the lines of the pots used to catch the crabs, but many in the fishing community have begun to work together to reduce these entanglements. The government also enforces limits on the size of the crabs that hare harvested—only mature crabs are allowed to be caught and sold, which ensures that younger crabs have a chance to grow and reproduce. This ensures the sustainability of the Dungeness stock off the coast of Northern California all the way up the Pacific coastline.
No wonder Dungeness crab is so beloved here in the Bay Area! Now we know that not only is it incredibly delicious, but it is healthy, safe, and sustainable. This holiday season, we know we will be diving in to some fresh crab at our holiday parties!
Main Image Credit: Justin Kral