PACIFIC COUNTY — There won’t be any razor clam digs in Washington or Oregon until at least mid-November, state fishery managers say.
Samples collected from beaches in both states show that levels of the marine toxin domoic acid are still above health department thresholds.
In the last round of tests in mid-September, levels dropped slightly in Long Beach to 19 parts per million, only just below the Washington Department of Health’s threshold of 20 ppm. Now, those are back up at 41 ppm in the samples collected.
“Mostly that’s a factor of which 12 clams get selected for sampling, I think,” said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It’s also possible that the clams are still picking up additional toxin, he added. The algae that produces domoic acid is still present off the coast.
Levels in Twin Harbors, however, dropped from 68 ppm to 44 ppm, still above the threshold. Twin Harbors is the coastline between the mouths of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.
In Washington, only one beach currently has clams that are safe to eat — Copalis, the coast immediately north of the mouth of Grays Harbor. Ayres said this puts the department in a bit of a quandry.
If a second round of testing comes back clean, “Do we open just one beach?” he said in a phone interview Oct. 6.
“From a fisheries management standpoint, we’d think real hard about that,” he had said in an earlier interview. “We don’t want to jam up one beach ... it just turns into a train wreck.”
Favorable clam tides will occur at the end of October and again in mid-November. With levels still high everywhere else, Ayres says WDFW probably won’t schedule any October digs.
In Oregon, levels remain high and the Clatsop County beaches will likely remain closed to clamming at least until November, too. In Coos Bay, samples came back with domoic acid levels at 99 parts per million.
It is not uncommon for levels to jump back up just as they seem to be inching down, state fishery managers say.
Razor clam digging is a popular activity in Pacific and Clatsop counties, drawing thousands of people when the tides are favorable. In Long Beach, diggers will line the beaches for miles. Last year, in Washington, WDFW was able to open 104 days for digging — the most it has ever allowed in more than 30 years.
But the season came to an abrupt end this spring in both states with the arrival of massive algal blooms and domoic acid.
These blooms — perhaps the largest ever recorded on the West Coast, say state and federal scientists — later led to the closure of commercial and recreational Dungeness crab fisheries along 90 miles of Washington’s coast. Razor clams are a major component of the crabs’ diets, and levels in sampled crabs’ guts (viscera) eventually hit above the 30 ppm allowed by the Department of Health. Though domoic acid levels in razor clams remained high in Oregon, crabbing remained open.
Though beneficial to ocean ecosystems under normal circumstances, domoic acid can be deadly to humans. If consumed in sufficient quantities, it can cause permanent brain damage and even death. Other mammals such as sea lions can slowly accumulate too much and suffer similar nerve impairment that leads to death. Cooking and freezing don’t get rid of it in food.