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Crabbing season delayed

This year's commercial Dungeness crab season was been delayed by closures earlier this year, due to domoic acid contamination.

A bill aimed at assisting fishermen and fishing processors by limiting regional closures of crab harvest due to domoic acid passed unanimously in the Oregon state senate yesterday.

Senate Bill 1550 is a bipartisan bill that calls for better tracking of domoic acid so that resulting closures can be more localized and not regional.

The hope is to establish a sea-to-sale tracking program to protect public health without shutting down entire segments of the seafood industry.

The bill comes from the combined efforts of state senator Arnie Roblan and state representative David Brock Smith.

“We have an ever-increasing frequency of domoic acid test results that have a negative impact on our coastal industries,” Roblan said.

Last Friday’s domoic acid closure from the California border all the way Cape Blanco is devastating the fishing industry. The industry was already in a volatile state due to the latest start to a crab season most Oregon fishermen have ever seen.

“We have been working with our industries and agencies to come up with a better solution to protect our consumers, without having such a wide impact on our producers,” Roblan said.

Currently there is no biotoxin tracking system in place. So harvest seasons for fisheries all over the state are delayed and even shut down in response to a biotoxin discoveries.

“I’m trying to run a business and every time I turn around I have to shut part of it down,” plant manager for Hallmark Fisheries Scott Adams said.

A tracking system will allow the industry and government agencies to locate the specific areas where there are biotoxins. Then those specific areas can be closed to fishing, instead of the entire Oregon coastline.

“Anybody out there trying to help us is great, but what we really need is facts about domoic acid. I’ve been in this business more than 30 years and I’ve never heard of anyone getting sick from domoic acid,” Adams said.

A crab with high levels of domoic acid is still safe to eat if properly cleaned. Most fisheries including Hallmark provide crab consumers with a detailed list of cooking instructions that explicitly advise removing the butter, or guts, of the crab where domoic acid is found.

“We have labels and if you follow our labels you’re going to get crab that is completely safe,” Adams said.

The now approved senate bill will be sent to Representative Smith’s House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources on Wednesday to be worked and voted on by his side of the capitol.  

“This tracking and data collection will help isolate the affected areas and allow more certainty to Oregon Department of Agriculture on localized closures. This legislation will also allow for more flexibility in evisceration orders, while keeping the public safe and helping our fishing industries continue to be successful,” Smith said.

The new legislation will look at the location of the seafood caught and if a problem is discovered in one location, product data can be tracked to check nearby locations for a similar issue. If one is not found, area closures can be isolated and much smaller rather than have larger, regional closures like the current crab harvest closure that occurred last week from Cape Blanco to the border.

One of the main complaints raised by fisheries including Hallmark is that they don’t have strong enough communication with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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Reporter