Fishermen take to Bay as ban lifted

The fishing season was opened in the Bay on Thursday afternoon, after crabs and fish were found to be safe to eat in the wake of the Cosco Busan fuel spill.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger imposed a fishing ban in the Bay on Nov. 13, nearly a week after the container ship scraped against a Bay Bridge tower, which led to a 58,000-gallon fuel spill. The spill contained high levels of cancer-causing chemicals known as aromatic hydrocarbons.

Dungeness crabs are caught in waters outside of the Bay, where fishing was allowed despite the ban in the Bay. Local crabbers chose not to fish until the crabs were ruled safe, even though the crabbing season officially began on Nov. 15, according to Zeke Grader, who heads the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

But crab lovers are unlikely to buy any local Dungeness crabs until the weekend, Grader said, because the National Weather Service warned small boats to stay off the water because of expected gale force winds.

The herring season in the Bay is due to start Sunday, although small numbers of the fish last season means the department will impose strict catch limits this year.

Although the herring “tested clean,” according to Grader, there may be fuel on the floor of the Bay that could be kicked up by herring nets. “If those nets were to pick up any oil, they could contaminate the fish,” he said.

Herring fishermen have asked the Department of Fish and Game to test the floor of the Bay for fuel, which would allow affected areas to be cordoned off from fishing.

Mussels that were caught at Berkeley Pier and Rodeo Beach contained dangerous levels of the toxins, according to California Department of Fish and Game officials, but fish and crabs caught inside and outside the Bay, and mussels caught in other parts of the Bay, were deemed safe.

“Mussels are filter feeders,” department Interim Director John McCamman told reporters Thursday. “They can take in the toxins and retain them.”

Berkeley Pier and Rodeo Beach were heavily oiled in the weeks that followed the accident, and mussels caught at these locations contained more than twice the toxin levels as mussels caught elsewhere, according to a department report. Mussels caught at Baker Beach, Bodega Bay and Tomales Bay were found to be the least toxic.

Dungeness crabs have lost none of their well-liked smell or taste, according to additional “sensory” tests performed by the agency.

jupton@examiner.com

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