ILWACO — The commercial Dungeness crab season opener faces a delay until at least Jan. 1 due to an excess of the marine toxin domoic acid in the guts of sampled crab, the Tri-State management group announced Tuesday evening, Dec. 8.
The season had been previously set to start Dec. 16, depending on whether crab reached required minimum meat standards by then. The additional delay beyond the traditional Dec. 1 start date will mean hardship for many local fishing families and the businesses that depend on crabbing paychecks at Christmastime.
"This decision was based on domoic acid tests of Dungeness crab collected by WDFW and analyzed by the Washington Department of Health (DOH) which shows that areas off Long Beach have crab with their viscera testing above the federal domoic acid action level of 30 parts per million (ppm)," the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said in an industry notice.
The delay applies to the coast from Cape Falcon, Oregon north to the U.S./Canada border.
Excess domoic levels were found in crab caught on Dec. 5 at seven fathoms in the Peacock Spit area near Cape Disappointment. Levels from 30 to 36 ppm were found.
Domoic acid, a naturally occurring byproduct sometimes produced by a type of marine microorganism, has forced cancellation of recreational razor clam digs on the Washington coast since Oct. 21. Crab tend to be slower to uptake the toxin from the environment. It accumulates in their guts or "butter," and not in their meat. But since crab are often sold whole — and exported to Asia where the butter sometimes is eaten — health officials close the season when the safety threshold is surpassed. Domoic levels last forced a lengthy season delay in December 2015.
The toxin doesn't harm crab or clams, but can cause serious illness or even death in birds and mammals, including humans.
In their Tuesday industry letter, fishery managers said "A delay will allow WDFW to conduct more testing to see if domoic acid levels drop prior to announcing the opening of the commercial crab fishery. WDFW follows a biotoxin monitoring plan overseen by [the Department of Health]. The monitoring plan requires two samples, seven to ten days apart where domoic acid is below 30 ppm and domoic acid levels trending downwards to proceed without requiring evisceration. WDFW is in the process of scheduling the next set of required samples."
Washington coastal Dungeness crab domoic acid results for December can be found at: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/commercial/crab/coastal/letters-notices#general-info.
The coastal Dungeness crab Tri-State policy group consists of WDFW, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.