Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – There will be Dungeness crab on Christmas this year but it won’t be pulled from the waters of the North Coast, as the commercial season in the region will be closed until at least December 31.
Crabs collected on Dec. 5 from Eureka, Trinidad and Crescent City still failed to meet the 25 percent meat to total weight ratio that’s necessary for opening the season north of Point Arena.
The meat quality issue prevented the scheduled opening of Dec. 1. If the latest round of tests had shown adequate meat levels, a Dec. 16 season opening would have been declared.
More tests will be done to determine whether there’ll be a late December opening.
Tests in early November showed crabs were far below the 25 percent ratio, with the percentages ranging from 14 to 16.7 percent. Last week’s tests showed the meat ratios ranging from 19 to 21 percent.
If a December 31 opening isn’t allowed, then the season will open on January 15, as it can’t be delayed past that date.
Domoic acid is also affecting the North Coast’s Dungeness fishery again.
Tests for the toxin in early and mid-November north of Fort Bragg and in Crescent City showed one out of six crab samples in each area exceeding safety levels. More crab samples were collected in Crescent City in late November and the results were even worse – five out of six of the samples exceeded the safety threshold.
Two rounds of tests in which all sampled crabs fall within the safety level of 30 parts per million are necessary for the season to start in the affected areas.
The crabs with elevated levels tested at up to 150 parts per million in Fort Bragg, though the follow-up round of testing saw the highest level at 31 parts per million.
But the domoic acid level was up to 98 parts per million in the crabs collected in the Crescent City area in late November.
Christie Juhasz, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said crabs in the Eel River estuary area have tested within the safety levels and tests in the Fort Bragg and Crescent City areas will be ongoing.
More test results are expected this week, she continued.
Domoic acid is a naturally-occurring toxin associated with algal blooms. Its persistence into the winter months was a shock two years ago, when the Dungeness season was delayed into the spring months.
It continues be surprising, as an El Niño warming trend has subsided. Juhasz noted that razor clams collected in Humboldt and Del Norte counties are also continuing to show high levels of domoic acid.
“Algae is still present, producing the domoic acid,” she said.
Juhasz also noted that in the recreational Dungeness fishery, there is no domoic acid health advisory from the Klamath River to the Oregon border. If crabs test positively for meat quality but domoic acid lingers, unaffected parts of the northern coast could open.