OLYMPIA — State shellfish managers closed the recreational crab fisheries inside Willapa Bay effective immediately due to elevated marine toxin levels.

The rest of Washington’s coastal areas, including Grays Harbor, remain open for sport crab fishing, said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Test results indicate crabs elsewhere on the coast are safe to eat,” Ayres said. “We’ll continue monitoring for marine toxins in Willapa Bay and elsewhere along the coast.”

The department announced the closure in Willapa Bay after routine testing showed domoic acid levels in crab exceeded the threshold (30 parts per million) established by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). Domoic acid levels in Willapa Bay crabs collected Nov. 4 were as high as 54 parts per million, Ayres said.

Domoic acid has posed a problem for shellfish fisheries this year along Washington’s coast. Elevated marine toxin levels prompted WDFW to close recreational and commercial crab fisheries on the coast for a portion of the summer season.

WDFW also curtailed razor clam digging this spring on coastal beaches and has not scheduled digs this fall due to elevated domoic acid levels.

Domoic acid, a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae, can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities. Cooking or freezing does not destroy domoic acid in shellfish.

Regular testing of shellfish species found in Willapa Bay — including oysters, hard-shell clams and mussels — shows those shellfish remain safe to eat.

As usual, the use of crab pots is prohibited on the coast through Nov. 30, except in the Columbia River estuary, where pots are allowed year-round, Ayres said. Elsewhere along the coast, crabbers can use other gear, such as ring nets.

Harvesters should check for closures on DOH’s shellfish safety webpage at https://fortress.wa.gov/doh/eh/maps/biotoxin/biotoxin.html.

More information about domoic acid can be found on WDFW’s webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/domoic_acid.html.

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