Hunting Fishing

Fishermen urge keeping state’s commercial crab season closed

Abel Mata loads crab pots onto the boat Oceanic at Fisherman’s Wharf on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, in San Francisco. The commercial Dungeness crab season remains closed after fishermen expressed concerns about opening the season in a limited area. (AP Photo/ Eric Risberg)
Abel Mata loads crab pots onto the boat Oceanic at Fisherman’s Wharf on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, in San Francisco. The commercial Dungeness crab season remains closed after fishermen expressed concerns about opening the season in a limited area. (AP Photo/ Eric Risberg) AP

California-caught Dungeness crab won’t be in Sacramento-area grocers or restaurants for the time being, due largely to the concerns of commercial fishermen whose crabbing fleet has been docked for months because of a toxin scare.

On Wednesday, Charlton Bonham, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, announced that he will continue to keep the commercial Dungeness crab season closed statewide.

The announcement came less than a week after state public health officials gave the all-clear to begin eating Dungeness crab caught south of Point Reyes in Marin County. Last week, the California Fish and Game Commission announced it was opening the area south of Point Reyes to recreational crab fishing because testing of crab meat showed the toxins had ebbed.

Bonham was considering doing the same for the commercial fleet, but he said he decided against it after fishing associations voiced concerns about consumer safety and possible overharvest from too many fishermen targeting a smaller area.

Earlier in the week, the Dungeness Crab Task Force Executive Committee, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association sent letters to Bonham saying they support keeping the season closed until it can be opened statewide or up to the Mendocino and Sonoma county line, a traditional boundary for a Dungeness commercial crab management area.

“I understand that there are people suffering economic losses from this closure,” Bonham said in a written statement. “However, the majority of the commercial fleet tells me they want a statewide opener or could live with an opener that adheres to traditional management areas, which would provide the utmost protection against someone falling ill.”

In November, Bonham issued an emergency order that put a hold on California’s commercial Dungeness crab season, which had been scheduled to open Nov. 15, out of concerns the crabs had toxins in their meat caused by a massive algae bloom off the coast. The algae produce potent neurotoxins called domoic acid that can accumulate in shellfish and other invertebrates and fish that feed on creatures that eat the algae.

Health officials say they’ll continue to test the domoic acid levels in crab along the coastline. Once the bloom subsides and tests show the crabs have flushed the toxins from their systems, Bonham’s office says he’ll consider opening the season.

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown asked the Obama administration to declare a federal disaster due to the ongoing crab-season closure. In a Feb. 9 letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Brown said the closure has so far led to more than $48 million in economic losses.

Meanwhile, fresh crab is for sale at Sacramento-area grocers, but it’s being shipped from Oregon and Washington.

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