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Fresh Dungeness crab to arrive at Fisherman’s Wharf

Video: Toxic Dungeness crab prompt health warnings

A massive coastal algae bloom fueled by El Niño has prompted a warning of potentially fatal toxins in California crab meat and could delay the start of Dungeness crab-fishing season indefinitely.
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A massive coastal algae bloom fueled by El Niño has prompted a warning of potentially fatal toxins in California crab meat and could delay the start of Dungeness crab-fishing season indefinitely.

Locally caught Dungeness crab could begin hitting the docks of Fisherman’s Wharf – and Sacramento grocers – beginning next weekend.

State officials on Friday announced that on March 26 they would open commercial Dungeness crab fishing season south of the Mendocino-Sonoma county line. The season had been delayed since November due to a toxic algae bloom off the coast. Officials on Friday also opened recreational crabbing season in the same area.

State wildlife officials say that recent test results show that toxins in crabs in that region no longer pose a risk to people.

“I’m thrilled,” said Larry Collins, a commercial fisherman operating out of Pier 45 in San Francisco. “Crab is two-thirds of my income. So just imagine what your life is like if you lost two-thirds or three-quarters of your income. It’s been really tough.”

Collins said that many commercial fishermen were devastated when the season wasn’t opened in November because they’d hoped crab revenue would help offset some of the losses from a 2015 salmon-fishing season that was restricted following years of drought.

“I’ve had some really, really tough times before,” Collins said. “But this is probably the worst I’ve ever seen it.”

Collins said he hopes fellow crabbers can make enough money off a shortened crab season to do needed repairs on boats and equipment in time for the upcoming salmon-fishing season. But the future is not looking particularly bright on that front, either.

Earlier this week, fisheries regulators proposed restricted regulations to protect declining fish populations.

David Bitts, president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said the regulations could reduce by as much as half the commercial salmon fishing opportunities in Oregon and California compared with last year.

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown asked the Obama administration to declare a federal disaster tied to the state’s closed crab season. State officials on Friday estimated the total Dungeness crab fishery to be worth $90 million.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow

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