Scientists, lawmakers see short-term crab recovery

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

As ocean waters begin to cool, North Coast domoic acid levels are down and the November start of the 2016 Dungeness crab season looks promising, the authorities say.

Pre-season crab samplings off Crescent City/Trinidad and two sites off Eureka showed little or no domoic acid, according to data analyzed by the California Department of Public Health.

However, Patrick Kennelly, chief of the DPW’s Food Safety Section, testified at a legislative hearing Tuesday at the Bodega Marine Laboratory that partial crab fishing closures remain possible if the normal ocean temperatures that are now prevalent abruptly spike upward.

Similarly, Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, testified at the same hearing that a large “blob” of abnormally warm water in the upper Pacific northwest could threaten to disrupt crabbing again in the first half of 2017.

Nevertheless, said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), California’s Dungeness crab industry appears headed for “a season of recovery” in sharp contrast to the 2015-2016 disaster that engulfed it, owing to toxic levels of domoic acid.

Harmful algal blooms associated with warming ocean waters produce the domoic acid in Dungeness crabs that can be fatal to humans. It led state agencies to close much of last year's crab harvest,with certain exceptions. The industry lost millions and some fishermen their livelihoods.

Sen. Mike McGuire, who co-chaired the hearing with Huffman, opened, “Knock on wood right now, we are not expecting a repeat of the massive coast-wide closures that the fleet experienced” most recently. “We believe that the worst may be behind us.”

McGuire, chair of the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, added, “I believe we can say with confidence today that consumers should have no doubt that they are getting some of the best seafood in the world and have no hesitation in serving crab to their friends and family this holiday season.”



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