The local commercial Dungeness crab season will be delayed for the second year in a row, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But although CDFW is citing poor quality crab conditions as the reason the season will be delayed until at least Dec. 16, domoic acid levels in crab caught near Crescent City continue to remain unsafe, according to the California Department of Public Health.

According to CDPH test results from July 1, 2018, through Nov. 16, 2018, crab caught at George Reef on Nov. 4 had domoic acid levels between 57-110 parts per million — higher than the FDA action level of 30 parts per million.

Rick Shepherd, president of the Crescent City Fisherman’s Marketing Association and newly-elected commissioner for the Crescent City Harbor District, said CDPH is still testing local crab for domoic acid. And while crab caught near the Klamath River show domoic acid levels lower than the FDA action level, on the north side of Crescent City they tested dirty, he said.

Until domoic acid levels in crab caught in the Crescent City area are safe, Shepherd said “we can’t test the quality of the meat in our area.”

“The only quality (test) for meat they did was down off Eureka and those showed such poor quality that they haven’t tested again,” Shepherd said, adding that a Nov. 20 statement from CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham was confusing. “I believe we’re closed because of a domoic acid issue.”

In his memo, Bonham states that due to soft-shell or poor quality crab conditions in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties, the season will be delayed until 12:01 a.m. Dec. 16. Additional crab testing will be scheduled for completion on or around Dec. 1 to determine whether conditions have improved, Bonham states.

According to CDFW environmental scientist Christy Juhasz, the department will continue to test for quality and delay the season in 15-day increments not to go past Jan. 15.

Though poor quality test results are driving the current delay to the 2018-19 commercial Dungeness season, there are still areas showing crab with domoic acid levels above the alert level, Juhasz said in an email Monday. The alert level is above 30 parts per million for crab viscera and 20 parts per million for meat, she said.

“We are continuing to test those areas for domoic acid coordinating with both fishermen and CDPH (public health) and these areas could have extended delays if they persistently show crab above the alert level beyond the quality delay,” Juhasz said.

Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning can occur within 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating toxic seafood. Mild symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache and dizziness, according to the California Department of Public Health. These symptoms disappear within several days.

In severe cases, the victim may experience trouble breathing, confusion, cardiovascular instability, seizures, excessive bronchial secretions, permanent loss of short-term memory, coma or death, according to CDPH.

According to a California Department of Fish and Wildlife press release, the southern Dungeness crab fishery opened Nov. 15 except in an area from the southern boundary of Bodega Head State Marine Reserve in Sonoma County to the Sonoma-Mendocino county line. This delay was due to unsafe domoic acid levels.

However, the CDFW director may provide a minimum 72-hours’ notice before the gear-setting period in that area upon recommendation from health officials that domoic acid no longer poses a risk to the public, according to CDFW press release.

No vessel may take or land crab in an area closed for a meat quality delay or within an area closed for a domoic acid delay, according to the CDFW. Any vessel that takes, possesses onboard or lands crab from ocean waters outside a delayed area is prohibited from participating in a delayed crab fishery for 30 days following the opening of those areas, according to the CDFW. This applies to delayed areas in Oregon, Washington and California.

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