Commercial Crab Fishing Season Tentatively Delayed, Recreational Warning Issued

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A close up of a Dungeness crab in a pile of crab.
A Dungeness crab sits in a bin after being offloaded from a fishing vessel on Nov. 17, 2010, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The start of the commercial Dungeness crab season will likely be delayed this year in California. Meanwhile, the recreational season starts Saturday — but not without a warning.

Recreational Season

The California Department of Public Health advises people catching  crab recreationally not to consume the internal organs or guts of crab caught in two coastal areas due to the presence of domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin.

The areas covered by the advisory are Point Reyes in Marin County  to Pillar Point in San Mateo County, and Shelter Cove in Humboldt  County to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

Low levels of domoic acid can cause nausea, diarrhea and  dizziness. Higher levels can cause short-term memory loss, seizures and  death.

"Please remember to eviscerate any crab caught in these regions  prior to cooking" to lower the risk of poisoning, the department said.

Commercial Season

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has tentatively pushed back the start of commercial Dungeness crab season to Nov. 23, originally scheduled for Nov. 15,  due to concerns over the presence of whales, which have been increasingly getting entangled in lines.

The California Department of Public Health advises people catching crab recreationally not to consume the internal organs or guts in two coastal areas. (Craig Miller/KQED)

The agency made the preliminary decision after consulting stakeholders, including "fishing, environmental and management agencies," according to CDFW Director Charlton Bonham.

Center for Biological Diversity Oceans Program Litigation Director Kristen Monsell said CDFW's decision is the result of the first scheduled assessment since a settlement was reached in March with the agency.

The group sued the state after 71 whales were caught in fishing lines in 2017 — the highest number since National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Fisheries started keeping records in 1982. The ensuing deal requires the state to periodically assess the risk of entanglement in commercial Dungeness crab gear to whales and sea turtles.

"This will give them extra time to migrate to their breeding grounds before thousands upon thousands of lines are dropped into their habitat." said Monsell, who hopes the agency will do another assessment before officially allowing crab fishermen to set their lines. But a second assessment is not legally required until Dec. 15.

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Noah Oppenheim of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations said while Thanksgiving crab is still on the menu, the delay will cost its members millions in losses. He says whether the approach will even curb entanglements is a grand "experiment".

"Crab fishermen will certainly take this one on the chin, it's been a tough year, it's been a tough half decade for the commercial dungeness crab fishery in California ... without question, the management institutions that we've designed have simply not caught up with the changes we see in the ocean, and the changes we need to implement to make sure that we have a viable fishery here," said Oppenheim.

"The people of California are certainly going to be able to get their Thanksgiving crab this year, and that's critically important, so is being protective of marine life, we're committed to both," he added.

CDFW said it will enforce the delay unless its swayed by new information on Monday.