Biologists monitoring domoic acid levels before final decisionLONG BEACH, Wash. - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced plans to open several coastal beaches for razor clam digging later this month if marine toxin tests scheduled during the next two weeks show the clams are safe to eat.
If test results are favorable, the department will authorize a three-day razor clam dig Oct. 24-26 on evening tides at up to four ocean beaches, said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager.
Beaches tentatively scheduled to open for razor clam digging on those dates include Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mockrocks and Kalaloch beaches. No digging would be allowed at any beach before noon. Oregon beaches are currently open.
Regardless of toxin levels, no clam digging will be allowed at Copalis Beach, because diggers harvested nearly all of that area's nontribal catch allocation during the three-day opening in September, Ayres said.
According to WDFW estimates, harvesters dug approximately 648,000 razor clams during 64,000 "digger trips" to four ocean beaches open for diggi ng in late September.
"Copalis started the season with the smallest allocation of any beach and got hit pretty hard by the big turnout last month," Ayres said. "Fortunately, we still have about 80 percent of our coastwide allocation left for future openings at other beaches."
Ayres said WDFW expects to make a final decision about whether to proceed with a late-October razor clam opening by Oct. 23, when the second of two sets of sample clams have been tested for marine toxins by the state Department of Health. WDFW will announce its decision on its website (http://www.wa.gov/wdfw/), on the department's Shellfish Hotline (866-880-5431) and through statewide media, Ayres said. Washington diggers need a license, which is not required in Oregon.
The three-day dig in September marked the first time since the spring 2002 that people have been able to harvest razor clams on Washington beaches. High levels of domoic acid, a marine toxin that is stored in the meat of razor clams, required WDFW to suspend razor clam digging at all state beaches throughout the eight-month season that began in October 2002. Domoic acid can be fatal to humans if consumed in sufficient qualities.
"As much as we want to give people a chance to dig razor clams, public safety has to come first," Ayres said. "Once we get the test results back from the Department of Health, we'll know whether it's safe to move forward with a dig later this month."
Through mid-March, razor clam digs will be set for afternoon and evening hours "because that's when the best clam tides are during fall and winter months," Ayres said. As in years past, WDFW plans to offer morning clam digs in spring, when the lowest tides occur before noon, if non-tribal harvesters have not already taken the year's quota, he said. "Tides, allocations, marine toxins - they're all part of the equation in scheduling razor clam openings," Ayres said. "We got a good start in September, and we hope to have many more openings in the months ahead."