In another sign that fresh crab meat soon may end up on Sacramento dinner plates, state officials announced Thursday that crabs caught along the Southern California coast are no longer so infused with toxins that they’re unsafe to eat.
But the Northern California crab fishery – where most of the region gets its fresh crab – remains closed because of a massive toxic algae bloom off the coast.
On Thursday, state health and wildlife officials announced that meat from crab caught south of the Piedras Blancas Light Station in San Luis Obispo County “no longer poses a significant human health risk from high levels of domoic acid.”
In response, state fisheries managers reopened the recreational fishing season for Dungeness and rock crab fishing south of the light station. Officials also gave the all-clear for commercial rock crab boats to resume dropping traps south of that location.
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The commercial Dungeness crab season remains closed statewide, along with all Dungeness crab fishing north of the lighthouse.
Health officials said, despite the progress, they still recommend not eating the viscera and internal organs of Southern California crabs out of concern that toxins may accumulate in the guts. Crab guts are consumed in a delicacy known as “crab butter.” Health officials also recommend tossing out the water or broth used to cook whole crabs. The broth, health officials say, could concentrate any toxins that leach out from the guts.
Health and wildlife officials say they will continue to monitor domoic acid levels in Dungeness and rock crabs to determine when the fisheries can be opened safely in Northern California, where the bulk of last year’s $60 million crab harvest took place.
Most of the West Coast crab fishery, from Santa Barbara County to British Columbia, has been closed to fishing since November after health officials detected unsafe levels of domoic acid during routine sampling of crab meat. The toxin is a byproduct of an algae bloom off the coast that spread as far north as Alaska in water warmed by the El Niño weather pattern. The potent neurotoxins can accumulate in shellfish and other invertebrates and fish that feed on creatures that eat the algae.
Washington and Oregon crab fishermen faced similar restrictions, but they have been given the all-clear to begin fishing on Friday.