Dungeness crab season opens in parts of California

Saturday, January 2, 2016
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California's crab ban has been lifted in some parts of the state, but there's no such luck for residents and fisherman along the Monterey Bay.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The crab season has officially opened in California but it does come with some restrictions.

It's been lifted in some parts of the state to our south, but there's no such luck for residents and fisherman along the Monterey Bay.

Public health officials say it's still unsafe to eat crabs caught in Northern California and they're not sure when that ban will be lifted.

WATCH VIDEO: Delayed crab season hurts Bay Area fishermen, restaurants

At the Santa Cruz Harbor Boatyard, crab fishing boats remain tied up at the docks. "The season's already half gone from the best months," Harbor Boatyard's Bob Obert said.

For Obert, it's a challenging time for him and his family. "It's a tough industry to make money in, 'cause it's such hard work and the weather's so unpredictable," he said.

State officials closed the Dungeness crab fishing season back in November after finding unsafe levels of a toxin called domoic acid, caused by a massive coastal algae bloom fueled by El Nino.

But Thursday, part of the health advisory was lifted after recent tests showed those levels have now dropped to "low or undetectable levels" for rock and Dungeness crabs caught near the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo coasts.

However, commercial and recreational crab fishing along the Northern California coast, including Monterey and Santa Cruz, remains off limits.

"I want to eat crab. I love crab, I'm from Maryland, so I'm always going to want them. But at the same time, not until I get some better information on it," Soquel resident Brian Salah said.

Some restaurants in the area have purchased their crab from out of state. Others have taken it off the menu altogether due to rising costs.

For now, it's too soon to tell whether crab prices will go down. Boats based in Santa Cruz have yet to travel south, operators unsure if it'll be worth the trip.

"If you fish, you know what it's like when there's a thousand boats fishing against you, over against five or 10 boats fishing around you," Obert said.

Consumers are holding out hope that the ban will be lifted locally before the end of the season.

"Usually by this time of the year, we've probably had crab at least three times. And we really miss it," Santa Cruz resident Ken Dempsey said.

VIDEO: Oregon, Washington postpone crab season due to toxic algae