With rough ocean conditions preventing quality testing to occur the week before Christmas, the commercial Dungeness crab season has been delayed to Jan. 15.

However, the fishery may be delayed further in two areas of Northern California, including Del Norte County, due to elevated levels of domoic acid, according to a California Department of Fish and Wildlife press release.

According to the California Department of Public Health’s Summary of Domoic Acid Levels in Crabs, 67 percent of crab caught in the George Reef area of Crescent City on Dec. 12 showed unsafe levels of the toxin at 70 parts per million with an average domoic acid level of 37.1 parts per million. The FDA action level is 30 parts per million, according to the summary.

According to Crescent City crab fisherman Loren Brown, owner of the Katherine, public health representatives try to test crab once a week but had experienced a delay due to the holidays. Brown said two tests showing domoic acid level below the FDA threshold of 30 parts per million are required before crab is considered safe to eat.

With regards to quality testing, however, the protocol requires that tested crab achieve a meat recovery rate to ensure that the crustaceans are ready for harvest, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Previous quality test results from crab collected Nov. 3 and Dec. 4 showed that crab did have enough meat. Without any passing test results from Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties, CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham can delay the season to Jan. 15.

The commercial Dungeness season in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties are now set to open at 12:01 a.m. Jan. 15, 2019 following a 64-hour gear setting period that would start at 8:01 a.m. Jan. 12, 2019, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

However, unless domoic acid levels drop below the FDA action level, the season in Del Norte County may be delayed further, according to CDFW.

In Del Norte County, many boat owners are eager for the season to start, said Brown, who’s been a fisherman in the area for about 10 years. Delays due to domoic acid hadn’t been common until recently, he said, and there’s a certain segment of the fishing population that believes the science is “overblown.”

Brown also noted that while many of the established boat owners don’t have any mortgage payments on their vessels, a delay in the season is difficult for the younger generation.

“I have a guy, a seasonal worker, he works on the boat in the wintertime during crab season and then he logs for a contractor in the summer,” Brown said. “He’s out of work now. He’s getting some unemployment. A lot of crew members, some of them get unemployment, or they’re lucky enough to have a working wife. It’s harder on the younger segment.”

Brown also noted the commercial crab season is scheduled to open today in Coos Bay, Oregon. But while some fishermen have permits to fish in Washington, Oregon and California, many locals choose not to.

“Say I had a permit to fish in Oregon and I wanted to fish out of Coos Bay,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to come back down here. (If) I’m going to go back to Crescent City I wouldn’t be able to fish here for 30 days after the season opens here.”

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, any vessel that takes, possesses on board or lands crab from ocean waters outside of a delayed area is prohibited from participating in the crab fishery in that area for 30 days following its opening. This applies to delayed areas in Oregon and Washington as well as California, according to CDFW.

For more information about Dungeness crab fisheries in California, visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/crab.

For more information on health advisories related to fisheries, visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/ocean/health-advisories.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .