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State Officials Reopen Most of Channel Islands for Crab Fishing

State health officials this week lifted a rock crab fishing ban for waters around most of the Channel Islands. An area between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands remains closed due to unsafe levels of domoic acid. Click to view larger
State health officials this week lifted a rock crab fishing ban for waters around most of the Channel Islands. An area between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands remains closed due to unsafe levels of domoic acid. (California Department of Public Health photo)

Crabs caught in most areas around the Channel Islands are again safe to eat, according to the California Department of Public Health.

State officials lifted the health advisory Monday, saying rock crabs caught off the coast of Santa Barbara County in state waters around the Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands finally showed significant declines in detectable levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin that forced the local closure last November.

One area between Santa Rosa Island and Santa Cruz Island wasn’t removed from the dangerous-to-consume list, however.

The partial lift comes after another announcement earlier this month deeming Dungeness crab caught south of the Sonoma and Mendocino county lines safe.

California’s commercial rock crab fishery is typically open year-round, and the commercial Dungeness crab season was supposed to open Nov. 15.

The commercial rock crab fishery closed locally Nov. 5, a rare occurrence affecting crab caught north of the Ventura and Santa Barbara County line up through Oregon.

In January, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife lifted the fishery ban for mainland Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties because crabs no longer posed a significant human health risk from high levels of domoic acid, a natural occurrence related to an algal “bloom” of a plant called pseudo-nitzschia.

The fishing bans affected some 15 California counties, which is why Gov. Jerry Brown requested federal relief for commercial fishermen in February.

Even after lifting the ban, state health officials urged anglers and consumers not to eat the crab viscera — internal organs commonly called the “guts” or “butter” — because it usually contains more domoic acid, a natural occurrence related to an algal “bloom” that typically thrives in warmer water (possibly related to El Niño).

According to health officials, symptoms of domoic acid poisoning range from vomiting, diarrhea and headaches to trouble breathing, heart problems, coma or death.

Santa Barbara Harbor Operations Manager Mick Kronman has said commercial crab fishing is a $2-million-a-year industry, with another 28 percent in expanded local economic impact. 

Health and wildlife officials will continue to collect crab samples from the central and northern California coast until the domoic acid levels have dissipated. 

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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