RAZOR CLAM SURVEYS reveal numbers of the beloved bivalve are at historic highs, according to state Department of Fish and Wildlife Coastal Shellfish Manager Dan Ayres.
Ayres said his staff technicians conducted 54 days of transect surveys, assessing razor clam stock across Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch beaches this summer, aided in some surveys by members of the Quinault Tribe.
“A pretty exciting final result,” Ayres said. “Populations are up on all of the beaches, and the numbers are almost unbelievable on a couple of them.”
Ayres said the estimated total of harvestable clams coastwide is predicted to be double that of last year, which was among the highest in decades.
“The preliminary number is 26 million harvestable clams coastwide for the 2020-21 season and last year was 13 million,” Ayres said.
Long Beach, the largest and most southerly razor clam beach, is particularly packed with harvestable clams.
“The Long Beach Peninsula at times produces well, and at other times it struggles,” Ayres said. “I’ve been working with razor clams for 40 years, and this is the largest population we have ever seen on that beach in terms of the number of clams and the density of clams.”
Long Beach was coming off a 2019-20 razor clam season that had the highest recorded numbers in the past 25 years, and Ayres said the 2020-21 class is nearly double in size with 9.9 million harvestable clams along the 24-mile beach.
“That’s harvesting just 40 percent of what’s there, the maximum total allowable catch we would ever take,” Ayres said. “That translates to 220 days of digging, but there aren’t enough good tides to dig for that many days.”
Recreational shares at Twin Harbors (2 million), Copalis (2.4 million) and Mocrocks (2.3 million) also are above normal.
Good ocean conditions and less pressure from diggers, including the cancellation of the latter portion of the spring razor clam season due to pandemic precautions, has aided clam populations.
“We saw good holdover from last year,” Ayres said. “[Razor clam survival from spring to fall or fall to spring] is not necessarily a done deal. But many of the clams seemed to survive, and there’s been very good recruitment of small clams growing to harvestable size.
“We had some harvest last year, but we didn’t take nearly what we expected to take because we didn’t get to the good tides last spring. We did some harvesting, but we didn’t get close to where we could have been if COVID hadn’t shut us down.”
Kalaloch, the nearest razor clam beach, has a recreational total of 362,503 harvestable clams, but it won’t be included in the first season schedule, Ayres said.
“Kalaloch is always really weird to figure out,” Ayres said. “It puzzles me all the time. Kalaloch has these crazy peaks and equally crazy valleys. The population is up a little over last year, but it’s never been, and this is year 40 for me, been a consistently strong productive razor clamming beach. One of the tribal leaders we work with grew up in Queets, and he would dig Kalaloch regularly, and he said it’s always been iffy.
A lack of nutrient-rich water, tidal action, possible predation by nearby sea otter colonies, bacteria and other pathogens all have been discussed as contributing factors to Kalaloch’s struggles.
“Another thing we see at Kalaloch, we can’t give measurement, but the beach will drop during storms,” Ayres said. “Erosion occurs, and the small clams just can’t dig fast enough to avoid being covered up. We see that at other spots along the coast. The south end of Twin Harbors suffers from similar erosion issues, and it’s also a bad place to dig.”
Kalaloch’s biggest clams only average 3 inches in diameter, which is about the average size at other ocean beaches.
“People want to spend their digging time wisely,” Ayres said. “How many people are going to want to trek down there for such small clams when you can travel a bit further down to Mocrocks and dig for limits of clams that are all above 3 inches?”
Ayres said he is hoping to see a season schedule announcement approved by today or sometime next week. Final samples have been collected for testing by the state Department of Health, and after a series of meetings, public health officials in razor clam counties are likely to give the green light for fall digs.
“These beach communities are used to having bigger communities in town this summer, and they haven’t seen major increases in COVID cases,” Ayres said. “They seem pretty supportive of an opener, and we have heard similar things from the governor’s office.
The final piece in the scheduling puzzle is figuring out a metric that would trigger a COVID-19-related closure.
“We want to be sure we have the ability without having big, long discussions what would be the trigger that would close the fishery. The one, little hoop that we have to jump through is to figure out the metric that would require a change.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or at [email protected].