COOS BAY — The Oct. 15 closure of both recreational and commercial crabbing came as quite a surprise to many local businesses who rely on bay crabbing in the months leading up to the Dec. 1 ocean crabbing season.
“They closed the fishing first, which cut off about 30 percent of the traffic here. Or maybe even more than that. When they cut off crabbing it’s brought traffic to a dead stop. With no crabbing, nobody has a reason to come down here,” Will Smith, owner of Fisherman’s Warf, said.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife along with the Oregon Department of Agriculture closed crabbing after noticing increased levels of domoic acid in local Dungeness crabs coming out of the bay. However, locals who financially rely on crabbing feel this isn’t as dangerous as state agencies are making it out to be.
“If you clean the crab and cook it its fine, nobody’s ever gotten sick here. I’ve been eating crab here since I was 12 years old,” owner of Crabby Cakes bakery Marvin Terry said.
This isn’t the first closure to happen this fall. Many local businesses were hurt by the September bottom fishing closure.
“Our state knee jerk reacts over things and errs on the side of caution, but if there was a little more research done here I think we could keep some more people working and keep these stores open,” Jack Kirk, owner of Captain Jack’s Crab Shack said.
Domoic acid is a toxin naturally produced by a type of planktonic algae known as Pseudonitzchia australis. Razor clams store this toxin in edible tissue, which is often consumed by Dungeness crab. The toxin accumulates in the viscera of the crab, and toxicity can’t be lowered by freezing or cooking.
“If there was no issue with domoic acid, I’d have crab on the counter, and customers in here,” Kirk said.
In high doses domoic acids can be fatal to humans. In mild cases people have seen symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and headache. There is no known antidote for domoic acid poisoning.
“We’ve had a really good bay season for crabbing, better than I’ve seen in 15 years. They’re making sure everybody’s safe. I’m sure in their mind they’re doing what they have to do, but it doesn’t make it any easier on me,” Kirk said.
Kirk, along with many others in the crabbing community, argue that one person would have to consume an unreasonable amount contaminated crab meat to get sick. Also arguing that the contaminated part of the crab, known as the “guts” or “butter,” are often removed, and consumed by very few people. Cooking a crab without removing the contaminated guts can contaminate the meat, but locals say not enough to do anyone harm.
“I understand the reason for caution, I understand the reason for checking it out, but when you put limit at 30 parts per million it’s not enough to hurt anybody. When they find a crab that’s a couple parts over and just completely shut the season off it creates havoc,” Scott Adams, general manager at Hallmark Fisheries, said.
Last year similar crabbing closures in the bay caused the Dec 1. ocean season to be delayed to Jan.1, which crabbers fear may happen again.
Crabbers believe that more precautions have been taken regarding domoic acids in recent years, because of growing crab markets in China.
“The Chinese are very cautious of what they eat … the people there are, if they’re going to eat something they’re going to make damn sure it’s good. Because they’ve been poisoned … Certain things with the Chinese just have no tolerance level. Like we have an OK at 30 parts per million, theirs is probably zero,” Adams said.
Terry says he’s losing over $500 a week due to both the bottom fishing closure and the crabbing closure.
“It’s amazing how many people come out here to sport fish and sport crab. There’s nobody out here now, this place is a ghost town … We’re just dead, nobody’s coming out here.” Terry said.
Smith said he’s averaging around three customers a day and that business has been so bad, he’s closing up shop and leaving for vacation. He’ll be reopening his shop on Dec. 1, in the hopes that the ocean crabbing season will open on time.
Hallmark Fisheries is very concerned about ocean crabbing not opening on time. According to Adams, if crabbing doesn’t open Dec. 1, their business will see 150 people out of work and millions of dollars of lost profit.
“Crab makes this place work. It’s a year round business for us,” Adams said.