State Rep. David Brock Smith’s legislation to refine crab testing in Oregon so huge swaths of ocean aren’t closed when a small area tests positive for domoic acid passed the state Senate Monday.
It now heads to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, on which Smith sits.
He and co-sponsor Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, introduced Senate Bill 1550 last week after a few “hot” crab off Brookings resulted in the closure of the ocean from Gold Beach to the Oregon-California border, and yet another closure from Gold Beach to Cape Blanco as a buffer zone.
Domoic acid is a toxin that can accumulate in the viscera, or guts, of crab and make people who eat it sick. It can be avoided by eviscerating, or gutting, the crab, which is what is required under the most recent order from the state Department of Agriculture (ODA). The meat is safe to eat.
Commercial crab fishermen at the south end of the state couldn’t fish their own waters for two months after the season opened in northern areas in December, as domoic acid levels continually exceeded levels safe for consumption.
The season opened on the Curry County coastline for nine days before another bad crab forced the ODA to require all fishermen and processors to gut their catches. The order boded particularly poorly for buyers of whole or live crab.
SB 1550 would better track crab for issues that can pose a threat when consumed by people, the bill reads.
“We have an ever-increasing frequency of domoic acid test results that have a negative impact on our coastal industries,” Roblan said. “This is evident in the delay of this year’s crab season, as well as the recent closure Friday due to high levels of domoic acid found in Brookings.”
Roblan said he has been working to craft a solution to protect consumer health and the pocketbooks of processors and fishermen.
Currently, the state coastline is divided into 12 zones; Curry County has two — L and K. They run from Cape Blanco to Gold Beach and Gold Beach to the border of California, respectively. Crab is an important industry in Oregon with fishermen bringing in an average of 14 million pounds every year, according to the ODA.
SB 1550 would narrow the physical area to be closed in a domoic acid outbreak. If a problem is discovered in one location, crab could be checked nearby to see if they are infected. If they aren’t, closures could be smaller and more isolated, rather than the regional closures that occur under current mandates. It would also allow for more flexibility in evisceration orders.
“Our crab fishers are struggling, and so are their families,” Smith said. “With the delay in opening of the crab season, and now the regional closure off Southwest Oregon, our fishers are being hit extremely hard. This bill couldn’t come soon enough for them.”