Crab fishermen began setting their pots today in preparation for opening day of the 2019 commercial Dungeness season.

Following a delay of about six weeks due to concerns about quality and domoic acid, the commercial Dungeness season between Patrick’s Point and the Oregon border opens at 12:01 a.m. Friday, according to a press release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The commercial fleet could begin setting their gear at 8:01 a.m. today, according to the release.

Meanwhile, recreational fishermen could begin harvesting crab between Patrick’s Point and the Oregon state line last weekend, according to the press release.

In a declaration issued last Friday, CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham stated that the recreational and commercial fisheries in the affected area could proceed after the state public health officer and the director of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment determined that domoic acid in crab no longer poses a human health risk.

According to the California Department of Public Health’s summary of domoic acid levels in crab, samples tested in the George Reef area of Crescent City on Jan. 5 and Jan. 12 showed levels of the toxin below the federal action level of 30 parts per million. The average domoic acid level in those samples were 16.5 parts per million in crab caught in the area on Jan. 5 and 18.5 parts per million, according to the summary.

Though the only indicators were recreational crustaceans harvested from “inside the bay” due to the rough weather, Rick Shepherd, president of the Crescent City Commercial Fisherman’s Marketing Association, said he had some nice crab with a full hard shell.

“I think the buyers are confident enough this time of year that they should be in good shape by now,” he said. “Everyone’s accepted a $3 price to start with — $3 per pound.”

Fishermen in Trinidad and Eureka had a “gentleman’s agreement” to begin fishing on Sunday and began setting their gear over the weekend, Shepherd said.

The commercial Dungeness crab fishery on the North Coast normally starts Dec. 1. However the season was delayed between the Mendocino-Sonoma county line and the Oregon border due to concerns about crab quality.

Bonham opened the fishery between Mendocino and Patrick’s Point on Jan. 15 — the latest the season could be delayed due to poor quality — but kept the area between Patrick’s Point and the Oregon border closed due to unsafe domoic acid levels.

On Jan. 10 Shepherd told the Triplicate that two tests showing domoic acid levels in crab below the federal action level were needed before the commercial and recreational seasons could begin.

On Monday, Shepherd said the activity at the harbor was “quite the sight.”

“Everybody’s getting ready today and they’ll be starting to depart as soon as midnight tonight,” he said. “Some of the bigger boats are going in the middle of the night, depending on where (they) want to fish, where (they) want to set the gear at 8 a.m.”

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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