OUTDOORS: Peninsula clams, clamming still sickly

THE MOST PRISTINE, untouched coastline in the state rests on the North Olympic Peninsula.

With a few notable exceptions, Peninsula beaches have been controlled by Olympic National Park for more than two decades, and thus benefit from its general “look, don’t touch” dogma.

No motor vehicles, no commercial harvesting, no development, no littering, no skinny dipping (I’m assuming).

Unfortunately, there’s also been no recreational shellfish harvesting of late, either.

Be it Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) or Nuclear Inclusion X (NIX), some dreaded acronym has left Peninsula beaches a veritable no-dig zone this winter.

Popular razor clamming destination Kalaloch, which was officially excluded from two sets of spring harvest dates on Wednesday, is among the most notable casualties.

In stark contrast, the state-run and less protected beaches to the south have been open to shellfish harvesting all winter.

That leaves one to wonder, how can that be? Don’t Peninsula beaches receive more protection than a presidential motorcade?

Shouldn’t that result in some sort of sand-laden Eden complete with thriving hordes of clams, fish and huggable hippies frolicking about (clothed, of course)?

As it turns out, it’s not quite that simple, according to park coastal ecologist Steve Fradkin.

“The entire coastline appears to be relatively the same, but it’s very different,” he said.

“The idea that Kalaloch is within a national park, so it should be better protected . . . in a lot of ways it’s true. It is better protected from a variety of threats.

“The problem is that the beach is connected to the bigger, broader ocean. That’s not something that we have control over, and that’s not something we necessarily know what influence that’s having.”

It appears that variable has been negatively affecting Peninsula beaches, most of which fall within park boundaries, more so than the south of late.

This winter, for example, PSP levels rose to dangerously high levels on the Peninsula coast.

The presence of the deadly neurotoxins, also known as red tide, forced park officials to close all recreational shellfish harvesting in November.

State-run beaches, however, remained open all winter because their PSP levels never rose past the human threshold.

Kalaloch clams

Then there’s Kalaloch’s ill-fated razor clam population.

While diggers have had little trouble getting limits at Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Long Beach and Copalis this season, Kalaloch was closed for the second straight year due to a lack of harvestable clams.

Fradkin believes the presence of NIX, a disease which affects the gills of razor clams but does not affect humans, is largely responsible for that.

Park ecologists have been monitoring Kalaloch for nearly a year as part of a two-year study examining the presence of NIX.

They’ve been taking samples every other month, with results pointing to a building presence of the bacteria, according to Fradkin.

The majority of the clams sampled are only 3.1 to 3.2 inches from end to end, which is far from large, with one age group (aka a cohort) making up 95 percent of the population.

“Normally there’s a bunch of really big ones, a bunch of small ones,” Fradkin said of clam populations.

“That’s indicative of a bunch of different cohorts. Right now we have this one. The idea is that all of the big ones are not there because they died off, and we think what killed them is NIX.

“The last couple of years, we’ve had these huge mortality events. That’s when all the big ones are dying off.”

The lack of larger clams led Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres to recommend against including Kalaloch in this spring’s morning digs.

And as was expected, when the March and April harvest dates were announced by Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday, Kalaloch was excluded.

Whether things will change anytime soon, either for digs in May or even next fall, is anyone’s guess.

“Over the long run there are generally fewer clams at Kalaloch than at state beaches,” Fradkin said. “They tend to grow a little slower.

“We tend to have more pronounced domoic acid issues at Kalaloch. What that really speaks to is the oceanographic processes are a little different at the Kalaloch area than down south.

“We don’t know about NIX and what its life history is. Because we don’t know that, we don’t know why one area is hit harder than another. I could sit here and spin out thousands of different stories.

“At the end of the day there’s so much chin music because we don’t have the faintest idea. We just know it’s there.”


Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]

More in Sports

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Lefties centerfielder Ronnie Rust tumbles to the ground after crashing into the fence fielding a long fly ball in the second inning against the Bellingham Bells in June 2019 at Port Angeles Civic Field. The Lefties will begin the 2021 season at home on June 1.
LEFTIES: Boys of Summer return to Civic Field

The college-aged boys of summer will return to Civic… Continue reading

MEN’S BASKETBALL: Peninsula College rides strong defense to big win over Edmonds

Peninsula College clamped down defensively and shared the ball and… Continue reading

OUTDOORS: April offers options including the start of halibut fishing

APRIL IS A PRIME month for anglers, with halibut opening April 22… Continue reading

Lonnie Archibald/for Peninsula Daily News
Forks' Kyra Neel slides safely into third during the second game of a doubleheader against Raymond on Tuesday at Tillicum Park in Forks.
PREP SOFTBALL: Forks splits doubleheader with Raymond

Kyra Neel and Kyrissa Duncan each go 7 for 8 at the plate

Lonnie Archibald/for Peninsula Daily News
Forks shortstop Logan Olson makes the tag during the first game of the Spartans' doubleheader sweep of Ocosta at Fred Orr Memorial Field in Beaver on Tuesday.
PREP BASEBALL: Forks stays unbeaten with doubleheader sweep

Forks tamed the Ocosta Wildcats, coming from behind for a… Continue reading

Photo courtesy of Jay Cline
The first "test event" of cyclocross was held at Extreme Sports Park outside of Port Angeles in late March. Races that are part of the normal cyclocross fall circuit are scheduled at the site in October and November.
ADVENTURE SPORTS: Cyclocross passes its test; more races to come in the fall

Extreme Sports Park hosted the first-ever “Cyclocross” event on… Continue reading

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Peninsula women cancel three games due to COVID-19 protocols

The Peninsula College women’s basketball team has canceled its… Continue reading

Most Read