Razor clams on a beach

Recreational razor clam diggers were finding a bountiful harvest before spiking marine toxin results closed the 2020-21 season last October.

LONG BEACH — There are some signs that a marine toxin that brought a premature end to recreational razor clam digging in October 2020 may gradually be improving in clam meat on the Washington coast.

“The most recent razor clam domoic acid test results look a little more encouraging than what we have seen to date. … However, no future razor clam dates will be announced until domoic acid levels in razor clams drop below the action level. We plan to collect the next set of samples at the end of March and will have a clearer picture then if any digging might occur in April or May,” Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said March 15.

Tests conducted March 10 found a level of 26 parts per million of the toxin in clams collected near the north end of the Long Beach Peninsula. A level of 31 ppm was found in clams from near the Pacific-Grays Harbor county line. Clams from the Copalis area around Ocean Shores came in at 22 ppm and the Mocrocks area just south of the Quinault Indian Reservation had a level of 19 ppm.

Clams must be found to contain less than 20 ppm before the Washington Department of Health permits WDFW to schedule recreational digging. The results must also show a declining trend between samples.

Levels of domoic acid — which can cause serious illness and even death in mammals and birds — have bounced around on the peninsula since spiking on Oct. 22. They reached a high of 65 ppm on Dec. 12, dropped to 20 ppm on Dec. 28, rose to 45 ppm on Jan. 11, fell to 22 ppm on Jan. 28, and then rose back into the mid-50s in February before coming down again. Some of this is just bad luck in sampling, as clams harvested from nearby locations can vary in how much toxin they ingested. The toxin causes no harm to the clams themselves.

Before the season was interrupted, WDFW predicted the 2020-21 season would be bountiful, with record numbers of clams found by a population survey in peninsula sands.

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