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Recreational crabbing closed immediately on Southern Oregon coast

Dungeness crab wait for packing and shipping at Hallmark Fisheries in Charleston in this 2019 file photo. State shellfish managers have delayed the start of the commercial Dungeness crabbing season along the entire Oregon Coast until at least Jan. 15, and recreational crabbing was closed as of Friday along the southern Oregon Coast due to high levels of domoic acid in crabs. [Kevin Clark/The Register-Guard via AP, File]

NEWPORT — Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife closed all recreational crabbing Friday in the open ocean, bays and estuaries from Bandon to the California border.

ODA received test results Friday showing domoic acid levels in crab sampled from this area are above the closure threshold, according to a news advisory issued Friday afternoon. Testing areas for Dungeness crab are prioritized, and this new test result was unexpected.

The new test results require recreational crabbing to be closed again along the south coast, just one day after it was opened coastwide Thursday from an earlier domoic acid closure.

The recreational closure due to domoic acid comes on top of a delay in the opening of the commercial crabbing season that has so far kept commercial crabbers in port.

Shortly after announcing the domoic acid closure on the south coast Friday afternoon, ODFW announced commercial crabbing would begin Jan. 15 from Cape Falcon near Manzanita to Cape Arago near Brookings after having passed all tests for the crab being ready to harvest.

The commercial season will open Feb. 1 from Cape Falcon north to Washington State.

Meat fill now meets or exceeds criteria in all areas of Oregon, and biotoxins are below alert levels in all crab tested from Cape Arago north, ODFW said in its announcement Friday.

Domoic acid testing of crab will continue from Cape Arago south to the California border after test results Friday showed elevated levels of the biotoxin in that area, ODFW said.

ODFW works closely with the crab fishing industry, the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission and ODA on testing and season openings. ODFW also coordinates with California and Washington to help create an orderly start to the season within the Tri-State region.

Tim Novotny with the Dungeness Crab Commission stressed the importance of being able to deliver a level of certainty in the product to the marketplace to start the fishery, both for industry and consumers to have confidence in the product. That comes through rigorous preseason testing and only opening regions where crab are ready for consumption, he said in a prepared statement.

Novotny and Caren Braby, ODFW’s Marine Resources Program manager, say generally the fleet and industry support later season openings when necessary to ensure crab are ready. This season has been just such a situation, and the industry has overwhelmingly supported waiting until now for the season to start, he said.

A group of Oregon Dungeness crab fishers — constituting nearly 10% of the state’s commercial fleet — disputed that claim in an open letter sent Jan. 3 to ODFW strongly criticizing the state’s failure to open the Dungeness crab season along approximately half of Oregon’s coast in areas where, they said, crab have exceeded meat quality thresholds for several weeks.

As the delayed opening entered its second month, the fishers’ letter described how the state’s refusal to open the season has cut off a key economic lifeline to small fishing communities up and down the Oregon Coast.

The fleet’s letter said ODFW failed to consider the life-safety risks associated with the late start to the crabbing season, stating, “We cannot express strongly enough how disturbed we are that the department appears unaware and unconcerned that its decision-making this season has directly undercut our efforts.”

The earliest the commercial crab season can open by regulation is Dec. 1 pending meat fill and biotoxin results. In recent years, that has been rare — 2021 was the first time since 2014 the fishery opened Dec. 1.

During 2020-2021, the season opened in stages (Dec. 16, 2020, south of Cape Falcon; Feb. 15, 2021, north of Cape Falcon). Fishermen brought in 12.2 million pounds of Dungeness crab coastwide with a value of $60.6 million. The 2021-2022 season brought in just over 17 million pounds of crab with a $91.5 million value.

Recreational bay clam and mussel harvesting remained open along the entire Oregon coast Friday. However, razor clamming is still closed coastwide.

ODA tests shellfish for toxins twice per month, as tides and weather permit. Sampling schedules sometimes are altered due to vessel availability, weather and other factors.

Reopening an area closed for biotoxins requires two consecutive tests with results below the closure limit.

It is recommended recreational crab harvesters always eviscerate crab before cooking. This includes removing and discarding the viscera, internal organs and gills.

For more information, call ODA’s shellfish biotoxin safety hotline at 800-448-2474, the Food Safety Division at 503-986-4720, or see the ODA shellfish biotoxin closures webpage.

Contact ODFW for recreational license requirements, permits, rules and limits.

Reach Mail Tribune Editor-in-Chief David Smigelski at 541-776-4484 or dsmigelski@rosebudmedia.com.