Crabbing open in Winchester Bay despite surrounding closures

November 17, 2017 GMT

WINCHESTER BAY— While crabbing is currently closed along some sections of the Oregon Coast, commercial and recreational bay crabbers are still welcome to harvest the crustaceans in Winchester Bay.

Due to high levels of a biotoxin called domoic acid, which is found in some crabs in these areas, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife closed crabbing from Tahkenitch Creek, north of Winchester Bay and Reedsport, to Cape Foulweather, north of Newport, on Wednesday afternoon. This added to the previous closure from the north jetty of Coos Bay south to the California border.

Crabbing between those closures, including in Winchester Bay, remains open as does harvesting north of Cape Foulweather to the Columbia River.

“It’s not a lot, but there are people definitely crabbing in Winchester Bay, and they can continue to do that. It’s really the only bay on the south coast that’s open right now,” said Alex Manderson, shellfish specialist for Douglas County with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The recreational crabbing season in the ocean closed coast-wide on October 15, though crabbers are still allowed to harvest crab in bays and estuaries, and on beaches, docks, piers and jetties within the open sections.

Domoic acid, a biotoxin produced by a species of phytoplankton, can build up in the guts of crab, razor clams and mussels when they eat that phytoplankton. The Oregon Department of Agriculture tests crab every year before commercial crab season.

“We’ve had some monitoring areas lined out along the coast, and if results come back above the threshold in a particular area, we will close that area and possibly an adjacent zone along the coast to account for the fact that crab can move,” said Stephanie Page, program director for food safety and animal health for Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Manderson said the closed sections to the north and south of Winchester Bay are both buffer zones, as the places where the unhealthy fish were found were farther to the north and south.

“We’re continuing to retest those areas that are closed in the hope that we can get them reopened,” Manderson said. “We don’t like this either, but the focus is public health so when the numbers are high we have to take action and we want to get those areas back open as soon as we can.”

It only takes one crab with high levels of domoic acid to close a section, and two healthy crab to reopen that section later on.

The commercial season, which usually begins Dec. 1 in Oregon, is tentatively expected to be delayed until Dec. 16 at the earliest, as the crab tested have not been big enough to warrant opening the season.

Despite the closure, crab and shellfish products sold in retail markets and restaurants remain safe for consumers.