MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS: Kalaloch unlikely to have razor clam harvest

RAZOR CLAM DIGGERS shouldn’t expect much, if anything, from Kalaloch Beach this fall.

Olympic National Park completed its annual stock assessment of Kalaloch’s clam population in July, and the resulting data was predictably paltry.

Months after the beach saw its harvest season cut short because of poor digger success, park biologists found that Kalaloch’s adult razor clam populations dropped by nearly 45 percent from a year ago.

While that may not be as bad as biologists first feared last winter, when diggers routinely averaged at or below two clams each, it’s hardly an endorsement for the 2011-12 season.

“Last year was a lousy clamming season [at Kalaloch],” Olympic National Park coastal ecologist Steve Fradkin said.

“People had a hard time getting clams, and there weren’t a lot of clams and there weren’t big clams. This year is not going to be any better than that.”

Kalaloch was closed to digging two years in a row during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, possibly due to a fatal shellfish disease called nuclear inclusion-X (NIX).

Considering current adult clam population numbers — estimated at 1.14 million — are similar to those in 2008, that could very well be the case again this year.

Park officials must meet with state and tribal co-managers first before making that call on the 2011-12 digging season, and a decision likely won’t be announced until sometime in September.

“If we do have a clamming season, it’s not something [diggers] are going to be satisfied with,” Fradkin said.

“[A canceled season] is certainly a possibility, but we really need to have some internal conversations on that.”

State Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres, one of the parties involved in those conversations, also wouldn’t rule out the idea of providing some digging opportunity at Kalaloch this season.

“We’ve got some options,” he said. “Whether we call it quits for the whole season . . . or dig later in the year, I don’t really know.”

Some good news

If there is one ray of hope that came from this summer’s stock assessment, it’s that Kalaloch’s juvenile razor clam population has rebounded nicely.

Smaller clams on the protected beach totaled approximately two million, meaning there’s still healthy reproduction occurring.

As promising as that might be, however, there is still lingering fear that NIX might stunt that cohort’s development in the future.

NIX — fatal to razor clams, but not harmful to humans — has been prevalent at Kalaloch in recent years.

A study done by Fradkin found an overwhelming majority of the razor clam population infected with NIX during the time it was conducted between 2008 and 2010.

In July 2010, the last period for which NIX data was available, approximately 95 percent of the clams were infected.

There is no definitive link between NIX and the beach’s last two population declines, Fradkin said, but minus the increased presence of predators, or major changes in temperatures or wave regimens, NIX appears to be a likely culprit.

“None of these things by themselves are smoking guns, but taken together they begin to paint a portrait,” he said.

“If I were a betting man, my money would probably still be on NIX as a significant factor.”

Kalaloch isn’t the only state beach to see its razor clam population take a dive this year, however.

Copalis Beach (40 percent) and Twin Harbors (20 percent) both saw its numbers decline from a year ago, according to Ayres.

Among the state’s other two ocean beaches, Mocrocks (located around Moclips) saw its numbers rise and Long Beach appears to have remained about the same.

“Overall, it’s a mixed bag,” Ayres said. “It’s not anything we haven’t seen before. These populations bounce up and down.

“The encouraging thing we’re seeing is we’re seeing a large amount of small clams.

“Seeing that, there’s less concern about the future.”

________

Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at matt.schubert@peninsuladailynews.com.

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