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Bay Area Dungeness Crab Deemed Safe; Commercial Season To Open March 26

SONOMA (CBS SF) -- Dungeness crabs caught off the coast of California south of the Mendocino-Sonoma County line have been deemed safe for consumption, California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials announced Friday.

Recent tests showed that domoic acid levels in crabs in the area no longer pose a risk to human health, prompting state officials to lift a closure of the recreational Dungeness crab fishery.

Additionally, a closure of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in the area will also be lifted on March 26, according to the CDFW.

Closure for the Dungeness crab commercial and recreational fisheries north of the Mendocino-Sonoma County line remain in effect.

Read Also: $138 Million In Aid Sought For Struggling Bay Area Crabbers

Commercial and recreational rock crab fisheries, however, remain closed north of San Simeon, as well as in state waters around San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands, CDFW officials said.

The commercial crab season was initially scheduled to start Nov. 17, but remained closed after public health officials determined crabs had high levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin that can be harmful to humans if eaten. Domoic acid is caused by an algal bloom.

In February, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife moved to allow recreational crab fishing south of Point Reyes, but continued the closure of the commercial season. The shutdown had caused an estimated $48 million in losses to the industry as of last month, according to state officials.

"This has been a very difficult season for hardworking Californians who have suffered significant financial hardship due to this natural disaster," the CDFW's director Charlton Bonham said in a statement.

U.S. Reps. Jackie Speier and Jared Huffman recently announced legislation that would provide more than $138 million in disaster assistance funding for California fishermen and businesses hurt by the closure of the commercial crab season.

The Crab Emergency Disaster Assistance Act of 2016 would provide $138.15 million in assistance to Dungeness and rock crab fishermen and related businesses.

The funding is contingent on U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker declaring the state's crab fishing industry a disaster and a commercial fishery failure.

Both the commercial and recreational Dungeness crab seasons are scheduled to end on June 30 in the newly opened area.

Officials with the California Department of Public Health and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment are strongly recommending that consumers avoid eating the crab's viscera, or internal organs also known as butter or guts, because they may contain much higher levels of domoic acid than the crab's body.

Consumers should also discard water or broth used to cook the whole crab and avoid using it to make sauces, broths, soups or stews, as domoic acid from the viscera may leach into the cooking liquid, causing potential harm to the consumer, according to the CDPH and OEHHA.

© Copyright 2016 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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