After a disastrous 2015-16 Dungeness crab season on the West Coast caused by a warm water-born algae bloom that created toxic crabs, things are looking up for Pacific crabbers. Fishermen in California, who took the brunt of the impact from last year’s closures, are optimistic that Dungeness crab season will start on time.
“The water has cooled, and the test results for crab are looking a lot better – most are coming back clean,” says Larry Collins, fisherman and president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association. “I think we’ll be OK for the November 15 opening.”
Surveys by the California Department of Public Health in September found domoic acid in crabs to be average for waters at the end of summer. This is far below levels found last year. With the toxins persisting in crabs throughout the winter, the start of the season was delayed in California for more than four months until March 26.
The delay hit fishermen hard, dropping ex-vessel prices in the $60 million industry by 44 percent, according to early data released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The problem also affected Oregon, where last year’s season was delayed a month because the toxin was found in crabs along the state’s southern coast.
Washington state also delayed the early opening of their season along the southernmost 13 miles of coastline. No domoic acid was found in Washington crabs, but fishery managers were worried about an influx of boats upon opening, as there was nowhere else to fish Pacific Dungies.
As in California, state officials in Washington and Oregon don’t foresee delays resulting from toxins this year.
“We’re all very hopeful for the season,” says Collins.