Crab ban lifted along Central California coast

A health advisory for Dungeness and rock crab has been lifted for the Santa Barbara County coast and most of the San Luis Obispo County coast, but remains in effect for the Bay Area, California Department of Public Health officials said Thursday.

The advisory, which has kept crab fishing boats tied up at the docks so far this season, remains in effect for the area around the San Miguel Islands and the California waters north of latitude 35 degrees and 40 minutes north or near the Piedras Blancas Light Station, officials said today.

The health advisory was issued in November after state officials found unsafe levels in crabs of a toxin caused by algae known as domoic acid.

It has delayed the start of the commercial and recreational Dungeness crab seasons in California and left crab boats idling at the docks.

Recent tests show that domoic acid levels have now dropped to low or undetectable levels in the areas where the advisory was lifted, state health officials said.

While the crabs caught south of latitude 35 degrees 40 minutes north are safe to eat, consumers should still avoid eating the internal organs of the crab, health and environmental health officials said.

The internal organs or viscera are commonly called the butter or guts of the crab.

Levels of domoic acid in the crab butter are usually higher than in the body of the crab.

Consumers should continue to avoid eating Dungeness or rock crab from any of the areas where the health advisory remains in effect.

Domoic acid can poison crab consumers, leading to mild symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting or severe symptoms such as coma and death.

Health officials suggest removing the viscera and rinsing out the body cavity of the crab before cooking to reduce the risk of poisoning.

Health officials suggest boiling or steaming the crab and discarding the cooking liquid afterwards as an alternative. Frying and broiling are not recommended.

Using the crab butter to make sauces, soups, broths, stews, dips, roux, stocks and dressings is also not recommended.

Health officials will continue to monitor domoic acid levels and lift the remaining advisories when the levels are safe.