By Mark Freeman

Mail Tribune

BROOKINGS — Crabbing restrictions were lifted Friday along the South Coast after biotoxin levels in Dungeness were found to be safe again, reinviting the region’s commercial fleet to take full advantage of what is now the second-best Oregon crabbing season on record.

Oregon Department of Agriculture tests Friday showed domoic acid levels in Dungeness were back into the safe margins for the second consecutive week, allowing sport crabbers back to the ocean and bays that have been off-limits since May 10.

It means the commercial fleet can resume sales of whole live crab to processors instead of eviscerated ones to remove areas where domoic acid accumulates in Dungeness so they are safe to sell to consumers. That allows crabbers to get a better price than those needing the extra processing for evisceration.

“Live buyers traditionally pay more,” said Tim Novotny, communications manager for the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. “Having to eviscerate takes away negotiating power.”

The closure was enacted because one in six Dungeness collected off Brookings and tested May 10 showed 40 parts per million of domoic acid in its viscera, also known as its guts or “butter.” Anything over 30 parts per million is considered unsafe for consumption.

Test completed Friday showed that none of the six Dungeness sampled from waters south of Gold Beach showed domoic acid levels above 6.5 parts per million, and one even showed less than 1 ppm, according to the ODA.

In past years, the commercial fleet was grounded in regions with unsafe domoic acid levels just like the recreational crabbers, even though very few people actually eat crab viscera, where the vast majority of the domoic acid settles in Dungeness, Novotny said.

“It’s an acquired taste, but some people eat the guts,” Novotny said. “We encourage people not to eat the guts. But without being able to tell people what they can or can’t do once they get it home.”

So allowing just eviscerated crab sales from a domoic-acid area is the only way to ensure safety, he said.

To reduce the burden on commercial crabbers, the fleet in Oregon last year started selling eviscerated crab during domoic acid outbreaks, Novotny said.

“In general and in practice, I think it’s working the way it’s supposed to work.”

So far this season, Oregon commercial crabbers have landed nearly 18.5 million pounds of crab garnering more than $65.4 million, according to the commission.