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Early Tests Encouraging For Bay Area Crab Lovers

HALF MOON BAY (KCBS) -- Bay Area crab lovers may soon be celebrating with their favorite crustaceans once again.

One top health official tells the Chronicle that while some crab is testing positive for domoic acid, the levels are not high and not unusual for this time of year.

"Domoic acid is not unusual in these invertebrates, but it usually occurs at a time of the year when there's not much fishing activity, or none at all," Sonke Mastrup former Director of California Fish and Wildlife told KCBS.

For 37 years, John Mellor has been a fisherman working 20 hours every day to make a living. Two thirds of his annual salary comes from selling crab. So when last year's troubled crab season closed, he lost a huge part of his income.

"Borrowing money from friends," said Mellor. "I mean, we live in the most expensive place in the nation probably, so it's a big challenge to survive with little to no income."

In 2015, high levels of toxic domoic acid were detected in the crabs, showing they posed a significant risk to the public if consumed.

The outbreak of the toxin was the largest ever recorded on the West Coast.

It closed razor clam seasons in Washington and Oregon and delayed lucrative Dungeness crab fisheries along the coast.

This year's test results are encouraging for crab fishermen.

"Everything's looking really good in the ocean, so I imagine everything's going to bounce back in a really big way," said Mellor. "We just have to hang on until we can start crab fishing again."

Annette Traverso is the owner of Alioto-Lazio Fish Company.  She buys crab and fish from fisherman like Mellor and sells it to many of the restaurants at Pier 39. Traverso was extremely pleased with these latest test results.

"Very optimistic; very hopeful," said Traverso. "Getting excited starting to get inventory where it should be in terms of packaging, bags and getting ready for season."

The season opens November 5th for recreational crabbers, the 15th commercially.

Domoic acid results from algae blooms in unusually calm, warms seas which we experienced last crab season with its' record warm ocean temperatures.  It can sicken, even kill people potentially.

State Health officials are plucking crabs from Crescent City to Monterey for testing at its' Richmond laboratory. So far, so good.

The Department of Public Health will continue to test crab once a week and should have a better idea if there's a chance crab season will be delayed at the end of October.

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