PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The opening date for Oregon’s ocean commercial Dungeness crab season has been delayed until Dec. 16, and possibly longer, after pre-season testing revealed high levels of domoic acid and underweight crabs.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced the delay on Nov. 18, stating that it will prevent wasted crab meat and assure a high-quality product for consumers.

“Pre-season testing shows crabs are too low in meat yield in some areas,” the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a press release. “Elevated domoic acid also was detected in some crab viscera [or] guts.”

Domoic acid is a naturally occurring neurotoxin related to the bloom of single-cell algae. While fish and shellfish are able to accumulate elevated levels of domoic acid in their bodies without noticeable harm, the California Department of Public Health reports that the toxin can be nauseating and potentially fatal to humans and other animals.

“Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning can occur within 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating toxic seafood,” the CDPH reports. “In mild cases, symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache and dizziness. These symptoms disappear within several days. In severe cases, the victim may experience trouble breathing, confusion, disorientation, cardiovascular instability, seizures, excessive bronchial secretions, permanent loss of short-term memory — a condition known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning — coma or death.”

Caren Braby, ODFW’s Co-Chair for the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia, told KOIN 6 that lower-than-desired levels of Dungeness crab meat is a common industry problem caused by molting — the process crustaceans use to shed their old shells and grow into new, larger shells.

“Every year they go through the molting process,” Braby said. “They grow a new shell and then shrink back down, so as they’re eating the next year, they have room to grow.”

Dungeness crabs molt in the spring or the late summer and are still adjusting to their new shells during the fall season. As they grow, their meat levels will eventually reach the desired industry standard. Oregon Department of Agriculture spokesperson Alex Manderson said that this year, lower meat levels are affecting fisheries all along the Pacific Coast.

“They need to hit a certain percentage of meat by weight,” Manderson said. “This percentage was not met in the north and the south of the state but was ok in the middle. Both California and Washington also are not meeting these thresholds either at last check.”

The next round of domoic acid and meat-yield testing is scheduled to occur in several weeks. If the tested crabs meet official standards, the season will open on Dec. 16. Another round of poor test results may cause additional commercial crabbing delays in one or more areas of the Oregon coast.