A banner razor clam season at the state’s southern beaches — Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks — is predicted by state coastal shellfish biologists.
Make sure to note Kalaloch Beach is not included in these rosy predictions.
“It’s going to be a fantastic razor clam season that is going to kill my crew,” joked Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“We are going to have more digging at Copalis and Mocrocks than we have had in a long time. The population of clams at Long Beach returns strongly after a real rough patch. There were 56 days of digging last season at Twin Harbors, south of Grays Harbor, and the clam population grew, so that’s an encouraging sign.”
Kalaloch ‘a big puzzle’
Similar encouraging signs are as hard to find at Kalaloch as well, razor clams were during digs there in February and March. A planned dig last January was curtailed by the federal government shutdown (Kalaloch is part of Olympic National Park), otherwise it would have been triple disappointment.
February’s dig produced a measly average of 1.8 small razor clams per digger. “And March wasn’t any better,” Ayres said.
“Kalaloch is such a big puzzle for us.”
In clam surveys conducted this summer, crews found a big increase in pre-recruits, the small clams classified as under 3 inches in length.
It was a fairly abundant increase — not like the explosion of razor clam pre-recruits that showed up in the summer of 2015 — but definitely a rise from last summer.
“Last year we estimated 1.8 million pre-recruits and 6.1 million recruits, so the population looked pretty healthy,” Ayres said. “When we got out to harvest in February and March there were hardly any clams remaining.”
Population surveys conducted this summer at Kalaloch showed a rise to almost 11 million pre-recruits. But the number of recruit-sized clams (larger than 3 inches) declined significantly.
“When we went back this summer there weren’t a lot of recruit-sized clams, just 1.7 million,” Ayres said. “And these are still on the small side, less than 3.5 inches. And clams that are 3.5-inches-or-less is not something people are going to be too thrilled to drive too far for.”
Even if there were abundant recruit-sized clams available for harvest, the state Department of Health is not likely to have approved any proposed Kalaloch digs any time soon.
“Kalaloch has had high levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning show up recently, which is fairly unusual,” Ayres said.
“PSP outbreaks are a real common event in Puget Sound in the summer months and typically shut down commercial oyster harvest and recreational diggins. PSP was found in mussels from Second Beach up at La Push, Ruby Beach to the south and even to the north on the Makah reservation.”
Ayres remains semi-optimistic for Kalaloch’s future.
“I don’t think it’s hopeless, yet,” Ayres said.
“It’s been a systemic problem for a long time at Kalaloch. From an oceanographic standpoint, it is so different from the razor-clam beaches to the south.”
Ayres said it’s not uncommon to drive past those beaches in the summer time and see brown-colored surf. Sometimes that draws reports of oil spills, but Ayres said it is a sign of a healthy habitat.
“That brown-colored surf is a bloom of healthy diatoms, the unicellular organism that razor clams eat. You don’t see brown surf at Kalaloch, unless it’s after a winter storm.
“I just think it’s not an ideal environment for razor clams. It’s never been a place that has been a hot spot. If there’s an opportunity for some stability, yeah, let’s go dig.”
Kalaloch also has dealt with Nuclear Inclusion X, an organism that preys on razor clam populations.
A far larger organism, sea otters, also may play a role in the mystery that is Kalaloch.
“The question everybody keeps asking is there is a substantial population of sea otters off Destruction Island and sea otters have been seen in the surf at Kalaloch. They are shellfish eaters and have been documented to eat a lot of clams. There’s also a weird thing where the gray whales moved in, right in the surf zone at high tide, and were believed to be feeding on something, possibly clams.”
Fish and Wildlife are planning to do something a little different at Kalaloch going forward.
“The next tide series we will be running regular samples through a condition index,” Ayres said. “This is something we do on other beaches but has never been done at Kalaloch.”
Ayres said the condition index provides a glimpse of the overall health status of the population.
“We have a crew dig 30 clams and weigh them in their wet state,” Ayres said. “Then they remove the clam’s meat carefully, dry it until it is dust and that takes a couple of days and what you have is a wet weight versus a dry weight. Not much is left, they are mostly made up of water. It provides a way to track spawning.”
First proposed dig
Write it down in pencil for now but the first razor clam dig of the fall is tentatively set as a three-day weekend dig at Long Beach from Friday through Sunday, Sept. 27-29.
The dig is pending favorable marine toxin results later this month.
The upcoming dig is proposed for the following dates and morning low tides:
• Friday, Sept. 27, 5:52 a.m. -0.9, Long Beach
• Saturday, Sept. 28, 6:36 a.m. -0.8, Long Beach
• Sunday, Sept. 29, 7:19 am -0.6, Long Beach
“We know people have been looking forward to digging razor clams at Long Beach, and we’re pleased to say we believe based on our surveys that the beach is going to enter the lineup more frequently this fall and winter,” said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2019-20 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov and from license vendors around the state.
“There will be some terrific razor clam digging in the months ahead,” said Ayres. He and his crew completed the final clam population survey of the summer Aug. 30 in Ocean Park.
Fish and Wildlife is currently assessing additional digs for Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks in October, but has not yet finished those assessments, nor set dates.
Under state law, diggers at open beaches can take 15 razor clams per day and are required to keep the first 15 they dig. Each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container.
Learn to stay safe on hikes
A free talk on “How to Stay Safe Hiking During Hunting Season” with wildlife biologist Bryan Murphie will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today at the Sequim Library, 609 N. Sequim Ave.
Murphie is the state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist for East Jefferson, Mason and Kitsap counties.
He will provide copies of the 2019 state Hunting Seasons and Regulation Guide, explain hunting season dates, tell how to dress and act safely while hiking on lands open to hunting, how to read a Game Management Unit map in relation to hiking maps and more.
Send photos, stories
Have a photograph, a fishing or hunting report, an anecdote about an outdoors experience or a tip on gear or technique?
Send items or ideas to [email protected] or call 360-417-3525.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]