Effective immediately, the recreational and commercial Dungeness crab fisheries on the southern coast of Washington will close until further notice because of elevated marine toxin levels, state shellfish managers announced.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) closed crab fishing today (June 5) in coastal waters stretching from the Washington/Oregon border north to Point Chehalis. This area includes Marine Area 1 (Columbia River) and the portion of Marine Area 2 (Westport) south of Point Chehalis, as well as the crabbing area inside the Columbia River and inside Willapa Bay.
The area north of Point Chehalis, including Grays Harbor, remains open to commercial and recreational crab fishing.
WDFW announced the closure after routine testing showed domoic acid levels in crab exceeded standards established by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). Domoic acid, a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae, can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities. Cooking or freezing does not destroy domoic acid in shellfish.
Levels of domoic acid have been increasing in coastal waters for several weeks, said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. In May, the department closed all Washington coastal beaches to razor clam digging due to high levels of the toxin.
“We’ve been closely watching toxin levels in shellfish since closing beaches for razor clamming,” Ayres said. “Domoic acid shows up more quickly in razor clams than in crabs.”
All crab gear must be removed from the closed areas by 12:01 a.m. June 10 or it will be subject to confiscation by Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers. WDFW is requiring that any crab captured in either commercial or recreational gear in the area now closed to fishing must be returned to the water.
This is the first time since 2003 that a crab fishery has been closed in Washington due to domoic acid, Ayres said. The toxin was first detected on the Washington coast in 1991.
Regular testing of shellfish species found in Willapa Bay – including oysters, hard-shell clams and mussels – shows those shellfish remain safe to eat. The exceptions are razor clams and Dungeness crabs. The harvest of mussels elsewhere on the coast is closed annually from April 1 to Oct. 31.
DOH will continue to test shellfish in all coastal marine waters. Harvesters should check for closures on DOH’s shellfish safety webpage at https://fortress.wa.gov/doh/eh/maps/biotoxin/biotoxin.html.
More information about domoic acid can be found on WDFW’s webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/domoic_acid.html.