OLYMPIA - State shellfish managers today doubled the area of Washington's coast closed to crab fishing after finding elevated levels of marine toxins in crab tested north to the Queets River.
Effective immediately, recreational and commercial crab fishing is prohibited in 45 miles of coastal waters from Point Chehalis to the Queets River, expanding on a closure in effect since early June that extends 45 miles south to the Columbia River.
Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said the area now closed to crab fishing includes more than half the state's 157-mile-long coast.
Bays and estuaries affected by the closure include crabbing areas inside the Columbia River, Willapa Bay, and Grays Harbor.
"Ongoing testing shows that crab in these waters have domoic acid levels that exceed health-safety standards," Ayres said. "We've been closely watching toxin levels in crab since closing beaches to razor-clam digging in May."
Domoic acid, a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae, can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities, Ayres said. Cooking or freezing does not destroy domoic acid in shellfish.
Although the algae blooms that produce the toxin appear to have waned, the toxin can persist in razor clams for months, Ayres said.
"Razor clams are a major food source for crab, so that's likely why we're seeing this lingering effect in the food chain," he said.
Under WDFW's latest action, all commercial crab gear must be removed from waters stretching from Point Chehalis to the Queets River by Aug. 10 at 12:01 a.m.
"This closure likely marks the end of this year's coastal commercial crab fishery, which was already set close in September," Ayres said.
More information about domoic acid can be found on WDFW's webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/domoic_acid.html.