October’s opening of the razor clam season will likely be delayed because domoic acid levels remain above safe levels.
While levels have declined since spring, when clamming was shut down, they remain high enough that the clams are unsafe to eat, said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
To be considered safe to eat, domoic acid levels must be below 20 parts per million.
The latest domoic acid tests, done earlier this month, showed the following levels: Long Beach, 25 ppm; Twin Harbors, 61 ppm; Copalis, 29 ppm; Mocrocks, 40 ppm; and Kalaloch, 10 ppm.
The highest level recorded earlier this year was 169 ppm at Twin Harbors on May 26.
“On a lot of beaches, it’s the highest levels we’ve seen,” Ayres said.
The “perfect storm” of spring conditions likely ledd to the bloom of algae that causes domoic acid, he said.
“It was warm, we had lots of sunshine in the spring, there were lots of nutrients in the water. It was perfect growing conditions for algae.”
If acid levels drop, the season will open as it normally does with the first good tides in October.
”I’m hoping we are going to get to dig sometime this fall. I don’t think we’ll be able to open all the beaches this fall, but at least some,” he said.
He added that it might be January before all the beaches can open.
Looking at summer population estimates, Ayres said razor clam populations are estimated slightly lower than last year, but still above the long-term average.
The number of harvestable clams is up at Long Beach and Copalis, down by almost half at Twin Harbors, and down at Mocrocks.
The numbers at Kalaloch would indicate that area will not reopen. Since the 2012-13 season, the department and Olympic National Park have opted to keep the area closed to allow the clam populations there to rebound since they first declined in 2009.
This year’s estimate of harvestable clams is just over 501,000, down from 990,000 in 2014-15.
The encouraging news is the number of young clams that should be large enough to harvest in 2016-17. They are estimated at more than 89 million. Many of those are already 2 inches long, Ayres said.
Even with the season’s start possibly on hold, Ayres and his staff are seeking the public’s input on the upcoming season.
“Obviously we can’t open beaches to digging until toxin levels drop, but we want to be ready to go when they do,” he said. “That preparation includes hearing from the public suggestions about the upcoming season.”
When digging was allowed last season, people were very successful. Ayres said there were almost 400,000 digger trips take in 2014-15, and people harvested 5.7 million clams. The average catch of 14.4 clams per day was just shy of the 15-clam daily limit.
Because domoic acid levels last spring exceeded the safety threshold set by the state health department, digging was closed late in the season.
Still, the number of days of digging allowed at each beach exceeded the average since the 2004-05 season. Twin Harbors for example, was open 104 days, twice the average of 50 days a season.
Despite the closures, the number of digger trips was the third highest going back to 1997-98. The 2013-14 season was the highest at 451,000 trips.
Also keeping last season’s numbers down was the season-long closure of Kalaloch beaches.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640
THE SEASON: For a look back at the 2014-15 season and a look ahead to the 2015-16 season, go to wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/seasons_set.html.
TO COMMENT: The public can comment on an array of management options for the scheduling of digs for the upcoming season. Comments must be received by Sept. 30. Suggestions for the 2015-16 season can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Razor Clams, 48 Devonshire Road, Montesano, WA 98563.
ACID LEVELS: For the results of the latest domoic acid tests, go to wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/domoic_levels.html.
HELP YOUR KIDS: The department has produced a video encouraging parents to help their kids learn to dig, not dig for them. You can see the video at youtu.be/gl9p_PparVk.