PENINSULA — The financial fallout from the ongoing razor clam closure is continuing to hurt restaurants, retailers and small businesses and the Long Beach Peninsula as a whole, though the city of Long Beach is holding its own.
There is no immediate end in sight to the clamming closure. After samples taken Jan. 11 were at near acceptable levels, the marine toxin levels were too high in three of the Peninsula’s four testing locations on Jan. 24. Levels from north to south were 26, 16, 21 and 34 parts per million, compared to the officially safe threshold of 19 ppm.
The time left to open a season is getting steadily shorter. In 2016, a toxin-shortened season ended May 8 to protect endangered snowy plovers that build nests in the sand dunes along the beach.
The count of visitors dropping in at Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau dipped 6 percent in 2016 to 25,336, but it still ranked as the third-highest year following record-setting seasons in 2014 and 2015, according to bureau Executive Director Andi Day.
“We saw a big drop in July with the Fourth falling on a Monday,” Day said. “If we’d had clam digging in the fall, we probably would have made up for those numbers.”
There are solid indications that the Peninsula’s efforts at diversifying its appeal to visitors are paying off. Despite the lack of fall clamming, lodging tax collections reported for unincorporated Pacific County through November were up 13 percent over 2015 and collections reported for the month of November 2016 were 16 percent more than November 2015 figures, Day said.
City of Long Beach lodging tax collections were 7 percent over 2015 while Ilwaco was down 2.5 percent during the same period. Last February, April and May were exceptional months while December saw a 19 percent decrease, the rise and fall largely correlating with clam openings and closures.
“I’ve had a lot of people call, leave their numbers and say, ‘When you know when clamming is going to start give us a call,” Jeff Lillian, who owns Shakti Cove Cottages with his wife Lillian, said. “Right now, waiting for the clamming season is the biggest thing — last year at this time we had it.”
The clamming closures have a direct impact on lodging rates for family-run business in Ocean Park. For example, Shakti Cove has been averaging one or two stays per week among their dozen cottages. The Lillians frequently offer discounts as rooms open up because of cancellations.
“We’ve had people make reservations for when they thought clamming was going to be, but then canceled (because of the closure),” Lillian said. They had to lay off two housekeepers hired to help maintain the cottages on the three-acre lot.
“Both our housekeepers have no work now because we have nothing to give them,” Jeff said. Overall the business has lost about 10 percent of their revenue as a result.
“The longer we go, the more it’s going to grow,” Jeff said. “If we don’t have two months of clamming before spring, it’s going to cause some definite hardship.”