Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – After delays due to low meat levels, the commercial Dungeness crab season in the state’s northern region is set to start on Tuesday, Jan. 15.
As of press time the status of the Trinidad area was pending a second round of testing for the algae-derived domoic acid toxin.
The toxin was shown to be present in unsafe levels through mid-December but a Dec. 22 test of crab samples from the area showed no unsafe domoic acid presence. The results of tests on samples collected Dec. 29 are due this week.
The Crescent City area has also been affected by domoic acid and further testing is ongoing there.
The two areas will have to test clear of domoic acid in two straight rounds of testing to allow for crabbing. Eureka and Fort Bragg, the other areas in the northern region, did so in mid-October.
But meat quality issues delayed the region’s scheduled Dec. 1 start. The meat of sampled crabs must account for 25 percent of total weight for the season to begin and a third round of testing was set for late December.
But what a Dec. 26 California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) press release described as “rough ocean conditions” prevented collection of crab samples and a potential Jan. 1 opener.
Mid-January is the latest date the season can be delayed due to lack of meat quality. Early December tests showed the meat to total weight ratio in the Eureka and Trinidad areas to be at about 22 percent.
Last year’s season was similarly delayed and the northern region finished strong, accounting for $42 million of the state’s total ex-vessel (off-the-boat) landings value of $64 million.
Christy Juhasz, the CDFW’s Dungeness management specialist, said the crab fleet is coordinating another round of meat testing before gear is set. “And that’s just for the industry to determine whether crabs have been filling out since the last tests from early December,” she continued.
The slow meat development may signal another robust season, as it suggests competition for food among a high crab population.
“That’s generally been the reasoning behind why crab haven’t been filling out,” said Juhasz. “And typically, when we see these delays beyond December 1 due to meat quality, we have seen relatively high landings as well.”
The domoic acid issues are concerning, as the toxin’s persistent presence has affected the last three seasons and the 2015 to 2016 Dungeness fishery was declared a disaster.
Thirty-three percent of Trinidad crab samples collected on Dec. 9 tested above a 30 parts per million (ppm) safety threshold, peaking at 48 ppm. But the highest reading from Trinidad’s Dec. 22 tests was 15 ppm.
Fifty percent of Crescent City’s Dec. 22 samples tested above the threshold, with the highest reading at 63 ppm. Results from subsequent samples collected there are due this week and another round of testing is set for Jan. 5.
Commercial crabbing in the state’s central region, from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line south, began as scheduled on November 15.