All Mississippi waters have been reopened for recreational and commercial blue crab fishing following a closure that began July 1.
Waters south of the barrier islands were reopened for blue crab fishing at 12:01 p.m. Saturday.
On Friday, the crab season was reopened at 5 p.m. in waters north of the barrier islands.
“The seafood was never not safe,” said Joe Jewell, assistant director of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
“Everything came back non-detect,” Jewell said of tests for oil contamination in seafood.
Tests on seafood are continuing, he said. “We are going to continue sampling and testing to ensure the safety.”
The only season not open is commercial and recreational oyster fishing, but that season doesn’t officially open until September.
The crab season reopening was ordered by DMR, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Crabs were sampled and tested by those entities.
“The FDA has advised that, following extensive sensory testing and chemical analysis, tissue samples tested indicate that crabs from these previously closed areas south of the barrier islands are safe for consumption,” stated a news release from DMR and DEQ. “Testing for crab tissues includes specimens of special interest, such as those with dark gills, brought to DMR’s attention by concerned fishermen and the public; all of these samples have been determined to be safe for consumption as well.”
Jewell said no exact cause has been determined for the dark gills found on some crabs, but low dissolved oxygen levels and sediment are suspected.
“A lot of the low dissolved oxygen in our waters is because we have very high temperatures,” he said. “That can be part of the issue, but I don’t think it is any one thing.”
The crabs with dark gills that been brought to DMR by the public have come from upper bay areas, he said. “There is a lot of sediment and a lot of suspended sediment and that tends to get entrapped on the crabs’ gills, particularly crabs that are stressed.”
The darkening is not found on any other crab organs, he said, “which tends to indicate it has to do with respiration.”
Crab samples tested, including the dark gills, have returned as free of oil or trace amounts in the parts per trillion range were found, he said.
“Anything they are finding is way below the NOAA protocol,” he said.