Clammer cars

Clam seasons bring throngs of out-of-town visitors to the coast, a welcome infusion of fun and money, but a mixed blessing in a time of spreading illness.

LONG BEACH — What could be healthier than a few hours at the Washington coast, digging razor clams with friends and family?

After taking everything into consideration, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is sticking with the existing schedule of clam digs through the end of April, WDFW Coastal Region Manager Larry Phillips said March 13.

With cancellations and closures stacking up throughout the county, state and nation due to rapid spread of coronavirus — including the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival formerly set for April 11 — the Chinook Observer confirmed with WDFW that clam digs will be allowed to proceed. This decision remains subject to the uncertainties surrounding the fast-developing global pandemic.

Since publishing this story last week, there has been considerable public reaction — with many suggesting that tourism for any purpose be discouraged from coming to the coast at this time. The Makah Tribe in Neah Bay has largely barred tourists from coming to the northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula for the time being.

Agency leaders recognize that clammers don’t remain in the safe and refreshing outdoors the entire time they are at the state’s seashore. However, “The risk is fairly low out on the beach,” Phillips observed.

The restaurants and stores where clammers congregate before and after clamming are now closed to walk-in customers, and WDFW has strong reservations about canceling the season, he said. It is unclear whether early closure of the clam season would have health benefits, and small businesses on the coast heavily rely on the influx of customers who come to dig clams, he said. All state citizens must practice social distancing — keeping space between ourselves to avoid infections — and this should include Washingtonians who come to the beach for clamming, Phillips said.

Coronavirus concerns are already impacting many coastal businesses, with cancellations starting to pile up. This includes some coastal charter-fishing operations, Phillips said. Charters face the additional challenge of predicted poor salmon returns this summer and fall.

Phillips noted good news is forthcoming about halibut season. In addition, the recovery of yellow-eye and canary rockfish will mean a more generous season for other groundfish, he said.

WDFW is working to safeguard its employees in a variety of ways, including telecommuting. “We’re trying to get people to do business online,” he said, including obtaining new clamming licenses on April 1. (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/#/login)

Phillips said state salmon hatcheries will immediately begin taking additional measures to try and keep hatchery personnel healthy, since they are stewards of living creatures of critical importance to state citizens, along with goals including orca recovery.

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See page A3 for details about this week’s clam dig.

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