Recreational crabbers got the green light to return to the Southern Oregon coast and estuaries late Thursday after a marine toxin outbreak that has kept crab pots and rings dry since October was finally lifted.
The commercial fleet will follow suit Sunday when deckhands can start setting their pots from Cape Blanco near Port Orford to the California border in preparation for Wednesday's official commercial opener here, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
The sport fishery has been silenced here since Oct. 20, when crabs sampled in this region showed the presence of domoic acid, or amnesic shellfish toxin. The season was further delayed when one of six Dungeness sampled off Brookings Jan. 12 sported unsafe domoic acid levels, according to Judy Dowell from the ODA's food-safety program in Salem.
The closure ended after Dungeness sampled off Brookings Jan. 23 passed tests, Dowell said.
Because Dungeness are mobile, state rules required that crabbing be shut down all the way north to Cape Blanco, Dowell said.
"It's not like sampling an oyster," Dowell said. "Crabs can move."
The commercial season north of Cape Blanco has been open since Jan. 15, after that region's Dungeness tested safe for domoic acid.
Domoic acid can cause minor to severe illness and even death in humans. Severe poisoning can result in dizziness, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. More severe cases can result in memory loss and death. Shellfish toxins are produced by algae, and are most readily absorbed by filter-feeders such as razor clams.
Dungeness most commonly get it from eating razor clams.
Dungeness is by far Oregon's most valuable commercial fishery. Last year's season opener was also delayed, but the 20.4 million pounds of Dungeness landed fetched a record $62.7 million for the fleet. Last year's landings were about 22 percent higher than the 10-year average, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Despite the reopening of crabbing, ODFW and ODA will continue monitoring Dungeness, Dowell said.