On Nov. 15, commercial Dungeness crab season will open from Point Reyes in Marin County south, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced today. But at the recommendation of state health agencies, the CDFW Director is moving to close the commercial Dungeness crab fishery between Point Reyes and the Sonoma/Mendocino county line and to close the commercial rock crab fishery north of Pigeon Point in San Mateo County.
This has the effect of closing approximately 60 miles of coastline to commercial Dungeness crab fishing that otherwise would have opened on Nov. 15. The fishery north of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line is not scheduled to open until Dec. 1.
The commercial Dungeness crab fishery had been scheduled to open all the way up to the Sonoma/Mendocino county line (about 60 miles north of Point Reyes) on Nov. 15 and the rock crab fishery is otherwise open year round, but some crabs collected and tested showed elevated levels of domoic acid. The naturally occurring toxin can sicken people who consume crab.
At the recommendation of the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham submitted to the Office of Administrative Law an emergency rulemaking to keep the commercial Dungeness crab fishery closed north of Point Reyes (38°00’ N. lat.) and to close the commercial rock crab fishery north of Pigeon Point (37°11’ N. lat.). Last fall and winter, domoic acid along the West Coast interrupted Dungeness and rock crab fisheries from Santa Barbara to the Oregon state line.
“Given the very difficult season endured by commercial crabbers and their families last year, we were hopeful to open all areas on time this year,” said Director Bonham. “Fortunately, domoic acid levels are much lower than this time last year and, despite this action, we are optimistic we will still be able to have a good season.”
The recreational season for Dungeness crab opened on Nov. 5 with a warning from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to recreational anglers not to consume the viscera of Dungeness crab caught north of Point Reyes. State and federal laws prohibit the commercial distribution of seafood products that contain domoic acid levels above the federal action level of 30 parts per million in the viscera. Because of this, OEHHA in consultation with CDPH recommended to CDFW to close or delay the start of the commercial Dungeness crab season north of Point Reyes and close the commercial rock crab fishery north of Pigeon Point.
Closure of the above-referenced commercial fisheries shall remain in effect until the Director of OEHHA, in consultation with the Director of CDPH, determines that domoic acid levels no longer pose a significant risk to public health and recommends the fisheries be open, and the Director of CDFW provides notification to the commercial fisheries. Recreational fisheries will remain open under a warning to anglers not to eat the viscera of crab caught in the affected areas.
CDFW will continue to coordinate with CDPH and OEHHA to test domoic acid levels in crab along the coast to determine when the fisheries can safely be opened.
CDPH, in conjunction with CDFW, has been actively testing crabs since early September and results from the most recent tests showed that select crabs from the closed areas had elevated levels of domoic acid in their viscera. Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin that can accumulate in shellfish, other invertebrates and sometimes fish. It causes illness and sometimes death in a variety of birds and marine mammals that consume affected organisms. At low levels, domoic acid exposure can cause nausea, diarrhea and dizziness in humans. At higher levels, it can cause persistent short-term memory loss, seizures and can in some cases be fatal.