Tri-county crab fishermen have some reprieve from the near two-month fishing ban.
The California Department of Public Health partially lifted the ban on Dec. 31, saying that all crab caught on the mainland south of Piedras Blancas Light Station in northern San Luis Obispo County was safe to eat. Officials have found high levels of domoic acid in crab throughout the California Coast. The neurotoxin stems from an algal bloom spawned in the region’s warmer waters.
Yet, most of Santa Barbara County’s around $2 million rock crab industry comes from shellfish harvested around the San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands, which remain closed.
Rick Gutierrez works for the Santa Barbara Seafood Station, which is losing about $10,000 a week, he said.
“There are three or four other companies in Santa Barbara that do the same amount of business,” Gutierrez previously told the Business Times, adding that they make about a third of their business during the holiday season.
The fishing ban on Dungeness and rock crab began in early November.
Santa Barbara County fishermen have told the Business Times that the reports of the neurotoxin also impacted sales of lobster and other seafood. California spiny lobsters generated about $3.3 million in revenue in 2013 for Santa Barbara’s commercial fishermen.
Domoic acid levels have been declining gradually since the closure, according to the department of public health’s records. Still, about 18 percent of the 194 crabs sampled had higher than acceptable levels of the neurotoxin, which is 30 parts per million in the crab’s viscera or guts. The viscera usually contain much higher levels of domoic acid than crab body meat, the department says.
Most of the crabs with higher domoic acid levels were found around the islands, not along the coast, according to the department’s records.
• Contact Alex Kacik at [email protected]