Marine toxins shut down recreational crabbing in Willapa Bay

Recreational Dungeness crab fishing has closed in Willapa Bay and remains closed in Grays Harbor, while crab fisheries on the Washington coast north of Point Chehalis will reopen, state Department of Fish and Wildlife shellfish managers announced Tuesday.

Recreational crab fishing was shut down Dec. 22 in Willapa Bay and the popular Tokeland Marina after testing showed domoic acid levels in crab for these waters exceeded standards for safe consumption established by the state Department of Health. Previous closures on Grays Harbor and the Westport Boat Basin also remain in effect due to elevated marine toxin levels.

“While we are seeing better news in some coastal areas, unfortunately toxin levels have now risen in Willapa Bay and are still high in Grays Harbor and in ocean areas on the southern half of our coast,” said Dan Ayres, state coastal shellfish manager.

Re-opening for recreational crab fishing north of Point Chehalis, which is at Westport on the south side of the entrance to Grays Harbor, was approved by fishery managers after testing showed domoic acid levels in crab met standards for safe consumption in these coastal areas. Inside the Columbia River — from the outer jetty tips upriver — will also remain open given acceptable test results.

“Marine toxin sampling will continue in all marine areas as weather and ocean conditions allow,” said Ayres. “We continue to hope more areas can open and make these decisions based on test results from the Department of Health.”

Domoic acid, a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae, can be harmful and even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities. Cooking or freezing does not destroy domoic acid in shellfish.

The commercial Dungeness crab fishery is also closed and will be delayed until at least Jan. 14 in Washington coastal waters south of Point Chehalis, Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, and the Columbia River.

Harvesters can find up-to-date information on seasons and shellfish safety information on the Washington Shellfish Safety Map webpage.

Levels of domoic acid have increased in coastal waters over recent months. Earlier this season, the department closed all Washington coastal beaches to razor clam digging due to high levels of the toxin.

The Department of Health recommends that crabbers fishing outside of the current closure area remove the crab viscera from their catch to avoid any exposure to possible toxins.

All sport crab gear in the new closure areas must be removed immediately or it will be subject to confiscation by Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers.

November and December closures represent the first time since 2015 that crab fisheries have been closed in Washington due to domoic acid. The toxin was first detected on the Washington coast in 1991.

Regular testing of shellfish species found in the area – including oysters, hard-shell clams and mussels – shows those shellfish remain safe to eat. The exceptions are razor clams and Dungeness crabs.