After long wait, Dungeness crab season finally kicks off in California

Published on
April 1, 2016

After months of waiting to get the all-clear following signs the Dungeness crab fishery had been tainted by toxic domoic acid, California crabbers began fishing in earnest beginning Tuesday, 29 March.

Before heading out to sea, the commercial crabbers of Pillar Point Harbor, San Francisco and Bodega Bay negotiated with wholesalers for an agreed-upon price of USD 2.90 (EUR 2.55) per lb. for the crab, according to the Daily Journal of San Mateo County.

“You’ve got to make sure you can go to the consumers and convince them it’s a good quality crab. I think it was well worth the time to get everyone on board today. It’s all new territory, new ground, we’ve never started this late before, so we have to spend a little time to make sure you get it right,” commercial crabber Jim Anderson, who fishes out of Pillar Point and sits on the state’s Dungeness Crab Task Force, told the Daily Journal.

The delay in the season, which normally starts in November, cost crabbers an estimated USD 49 million (EUR 42.95 million), according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

State wildlife officials halted the planned season opener last fall after finding high levels of domoic acid in crabs up and down the California coast. In mild cases, symptoms of domoic acid poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache and dizziness. In severe cases, the victim may experience trouble breathing, confusion, disorientation, cardiovascular instability, seizures, excessive bronchial secretions, permanent loss of short-term memory (a condition known as amnesic shellfish poisoning), coma or death. There have been no reported illnesses associated with this year’s domoic acid event, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Domoic acid accumulation in seafood is a natural occurrence that is related to a “bloom” of a particular single-celled plant. While the bloom that occurred earlier this year dissipated months ago, it takes time for the organisms feeding on the phytoplankton to eliminate the domoic acid from their bodies.

California Gov. Jerry Brown sought federal disaster declarations for the commercial crab fishing industry in the state. The appeal was accepted and businesses in the commercial Dungeness crab fishery were able to apply for federal loans up to USD 2 million (EUR 1.76 million) with four percent interest, available through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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