While poor quality crab is being blamed for the delay in the commercial Dungeness season, state health officials are also monitoring the domoic acid levels in crustaceans caught in Del Norte waters.
Oregon is closed from Bandon to the California border. The earliest it could open is Dec. 16.
Crab with domoic acid levels above the federal action level of 30 parts per million were tested near St. George Reef at various times between Sept. 28 and Nov. 25, according to the California Department of Public Health’s Summary of Domoic Acid Levels in Crab from July 1, 2017 to Dec. 1, 2017.
The most recent test sample consisted of six crab caught near St. George Reef on Nov. 25 with domoic acid levels ranging from 19 to 98 parts per million, according to the data. The average domoic acid for the sampling was 52.2 parts per million, according to CDPH.
Restrictions are currently in place for the recreational Dungeness fishery, which opened Nov. 4. State health officials warned anglers not to consume the internal organs of crab caught in coastal waters from Laguna Point to the Humboldt Bay North Jetty and from the mouth of the Klamath River to the Oregon border. This includes crab recreationally caught in the St. George Reef area, according to CDPH spokesman Ronald Owens.
If crab continue to show elevated levels of domoic acid after the meat quality issue is resolved, CDPH will use the information in the recreational advisory to evaluate whether or not it will recommend closure of the commercial fishery, according to Owens.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife has delayed the commercial Dungeness season until at least Saturday due to soft shell or poor quality crab. Updated information on whether the season will be delayed again due to quality issues won’t be available until Tuesday, according to Jordan Traverso, spokeswoman with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The normal start to the season is Dec. 1.
The California Department of Public Health issues advisories for impacted areas and consults with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on the potential health risks.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife then acts to close or reopen impacted fisheries based, according to Owens.
CDPH test results show that domoic acid levels appear to be climbing in crab caught at St. George Reef. The average toxin levels in crab caught near that area range from a low of 12.1 parts per million to a high of 52.2 parts per million.
However, crab tested near the Klamath River on Sept. 28 only showed the average domoic acid level at 14 parts per million, well below the federal action level of 30 parts per million, according to CDPH data. Domoic acid levels in crab tested in the Trinidad area were also below 30 parts per million.
Once Dungeness crab from an area have tested above the action level, two consecutive clean sample sets collected at least seven days apart are required before CDPH can consider modifying an advisory, according to Owens. The department also considers domoic acid levels in crab in adjacent areas.
Even though test results from St. George Reef show that domoic acid appears to be climbing, the toxin levels in crab tested near the Klamath River on Sept. 28 range from 7.5 to 18 parts per million.
The 2015-16 Dungeness crab season in Del Norte and Humboldt counties was delayed about five months due to unsafe levels of domoic acid in the meat and viscera. The commercial season didn’t open until May.
Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache and dizziness. In severe cases, the victim may experience trouble breathing, confusion, cardiovascular instability, seizures, excessive bronchial secretions, permanent loss of short-term memory, coma or death, according to CDPH.