The commercial Dungeness crab season opening has been delayed until Dec. 16 — and it could be later on the South Coast of Oregon, where domoic acid levels continue to plague the fishery, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said Thursday.

Statewide, the delay is due to low meat yields in crab.

But high levels of domoic acid in Zone L, from Gold Beach to the California-Oregon border, are exacerbating the situation, and prompted a closure of crab fishing until further notice, the agency said Thursday.

“We have some areas that have elevated levels of domoic acid, particularly Brookings,” said Troy Buell of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). “Three tests leading up to this season in the Brookings area have all had elevated levels of domoic acid.”

He added that while steady, the levels could be on the decline.

Tests this week show that crab here have domoic acid levels ranging from 16 to 55 parts per million (ppm). Two of the tested sites exceed the maximum levels, according to the ODFW).

ODFW closes zones when the limit in crab viscera — the guts, or “butter” — exceed 30 ppm. The meat limit is 20 ppm.

And if one zone’s test is too high, the two adjacent zones — in Curry County’s case, only that to the north — is also closed. That means crabbing is also closed from Gold Beach to Cape Blanco, north of Port Orford.

“Crab are highly mobile and can travel fast,” the ODFW report said.

The state agencies can reopen recreational harvesting in a zone after two consecutive sets of crab samples, at least one week apart, show acceptable domoic acid levels.

The zone from Gold Beach south hit a high of 99 ppm in late October and has been closed ever since, the website indicates.

Buell said he believes much of the northern part of the Oregon coast will open on Dec. 16, but delays will likely persist for Southern Oregon and Northern California fisheries.

Crab weights

Southern Oregon isn’t the only one affected by the closure.

Crabs statewide are a tad on the skimpy side for the second time in as many years.

Hugh Link, the executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, said it was expected. The agency will continue testing and make changes based on test results.

The delays, the ODFW said, are to “ensure a high-quality product for consumers and avoid wastage of the resource,” the press release said. “The delayed opening will allow for crab to fill with more meat.”

A second round of meat-volume testing will occur over the next three weeks; the results will help officials determine if the season should open Dec. 16 or delayed further. It is also possible some areas could open while adjoining zones remain closed.

According to Buell, crabs south of Cascade Head must have 25 percent meat or better, and north of there must be 23 percent or better. Currently the central coast of Oregon is faring the best; those from Coos Bay to the California-Oregon border had the lowest meat yields.

Under the closure, recreational fishermen here cannot take crab from bays, estuaries, beaches, docks, piers or jetties. Such fishing will be permitted in those areas in the zones that are unaffected by domoic acid.

Commercial harvesting in Oregon bays will close at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 1., but might reopen if the ocean commercial fishery opens in December. Recreational harvest of Dungeness crab in the ocean will open Dec. 1, barring any adverse health advisories.

Crab and shellfish sold in stores and restaurants are safe to consume, the ODFW said.

According to the ODFW, even though last year’s season was delayed, it still brought in the highest value on record, of $74 million, with 23.1 million pounds landed — 31 percent above the 10-year average.

More information can be obtained at the ODA shellfish safety information hotline at 800-448-2474 or http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/FoodSafety and clicking on Shellfish and Crab.

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