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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 6:00 pm | Fog/Mist 59º


State Reopens Mainland Santa Barbara County Crab Fishery

After a nearly two-month closure and just in time for the New Year, the state has reopened the commercial rock crab and Dungeness crab fisheries for mainland Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife lifted the ban Thursday, saying all crab caught on the mainland south of Piedras Blancas Light Station in northern San Luis Obispo County no longer posed a significant human health risk from high levels of neurotoxin domoic acid, a natural occurrence related to an algal “bloom” of a plant called pseudo-nitzschia.

The advisory remained in effect for state waters around Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands due to continued elevated levels of domoic acid in sampling results.

Recent tests near Santa Barbara’s shores show domoic acid levels in crabs have declined to low or undetectable levels.

Typically open year-round, the commercial rock crab fishery has been closed locally since Nov. 5, a rare occurrence affecting crab caught north of the Ventura and Santa Barbara County line up through Oregon.

California’s commercial Dungeness crab season was supposed to open Nov. 15.

To be safe, state health officials were still urging anglers and consumers not to eat the crab viscera — internal organs commonly called the “guts” or “butter” — because it usually contains more domoic acid than crab body meat.

Likewise, the California Department of Public Health and Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recommend that water or broth used to cook whole crabs be discarded, not reused to prepare sauces, soups or stews.

Health officials say removing the crab viscera and rinsing out the body cavity prior to cooking or boiling and steaming whole crabs instead of frying or broiling could also reduce the unlikely chance that crabs still have levels above federal standards.

The news was welcome at Santa Barbara Harbor, where more than a dozen commercial fishermen rely on rock crab for their income.

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

Many fishermen throw crab traps out near the Channel Islands, so they must wait and see when state officials deem those crabs safe to catch.

The algal blooms that helped cause the spike in domoic acid levels have thrived in warmer water, possibly related to El Nino.

State officials acknowledge waters have been warmer and that El Nino typically brings those temperatures, but they stop short of officially connecting the dots.

According to health officials, symptoms of domoic acid poisoning can occur within 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating toxic seafood. They range from vomiting, diarrhea and headaches to trouble breathing, heart problems, coma or death.

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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