Clam cops keep watch on enthusiastic crowd

<I>KEVIN HEIMBIGNER photo</I><BR>Alex tries innovative method to sink her clam gun as Johanna looks on. The pair of girls from Ridgefield easily dug their razor clam limit.

PENINSULA - An officer of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife is part law enforcement officer, part biologist, part public relations specialist, and at times, part psychologist.

There are not many of them. The marine division for Washington covers the entire Coastal Range of Washington, as well as 10 miles up the Columbia River and 200 miles out to sea. The officers inspect commercial fisheries, patrol the United States and Canadian border, and enforce fishing and hunting regulations. The marine division has two officers.

"It's pretty tough, but we get a lot of work done," said Mike Cenci, supervisor of the marine division. "We're highly mobile."

As an example, Officer Dan Klump came down from the Aberdeen area to help monitor the recent three-day razor clam dig along the Long Beach Peninsula.

Some might question whether the department didn't have bigger fish to fry, rather than ticketing vacationers who might just be collecting a few extra clams.

Cenci disagrees. He said the average clam digger spends $35 a day on the Peninsula, with 8,000 people a day visiting during that time. That means $280,000 is spent on the Peninsula per day during the clamming season. When people collect over the limit, they are preventing the claming season from being extended, creating a big revenue loss for the Peninsula.

"I'm amazed at who I catch," said Cenci. "They will cheat when it comes to razor clams. They are just being selfish."

Otherwise honest people may not appreciate the accumulative effect their poaching has on the razor clam population or the economy, so Fish and Wildlife officers are there to enforce the law.

On Saturday, Officer Klump kept a watchful eye on diggers. The day before he had handed out several tickets. In one instance, he said, the seagulls alerted him to a violator. Someone had buried their extra, smaller clams in the sand; a violation called "wastage." As soon as the person walked away, the seagulls moved in, and so did Klump.

Another person had tried to hide their extra clams in their boots.

Klump explained the rational behind the law requiring a person to keep all 15 of their clams. It is very difficult to successfully replant clams once they have been dug up. Once dug up, they die, reducing the number of clams available for another person.

Klump said he enjoys the work because he gets to be more proactive in catching violators. "We use our imaginations," he said.

A car pulled up next to Klump's vehicle. The public relations aspect of Klump's job came into play.

"You probably get this a lot," said the driver, "but is there a good spot for clams?"

Klump suggested further down the beach, where he heard the clamming was better.

A short while later a motorist flagged him down as he was patrolling. The driver needed help getting his vehicle in four-wheel drive. The gentleman explained it was his son's car, not one he was familiar with. Klump was happy to lend a hand.

Klump's job also involves public safety. He pulled over one driver who was speeding down the beach. The driver ducked his head sheepishly while Klump gave him a verbal warning. Children were wandering around the beach.

As people started returning from the beach, Klump would pull up to them, identify himself and ask to count their harvest. Most people had at or below their limit. Conditions were rougher on Saturday than on Friday. Clamming was more difficult.

He stopped one pair, a father and young son, and methodically began counting out clams. He asked the boy to count out his catch, then recounted with him. Not 15, but 16 clams. The boy blanched and apologized profusely, his father looking on.

Klump confiscated the smallest clam, but did not give a ticket. He believed it to be an honest mistake, but cautioned the boy to be more careful in the future.

Later on he pulled up to another pair of men. They were unloading their catch into the back of their truck. When asked, one man said he had 13 clams, the other said he had eight.

But when Klump looked into their cooler where they had been placing their clams, their story changed.

"I put three of mine in there," said the first.

"My friend left his here," said the second.

The law requires each person to keep their catch in a separate container, and a licensed harvester to be with their catch on the beach. The pair did not know how to get in touch with their "friend," or where he might be. Klump let the first man keep two clams to add to his 13, three would have put him over the limit. That left the second man with nine over the limit, and a ticket.

At first the man refused to sign the ticket. Patience and psychology came into play. Klump explained signing the ticket was not admitting guilt, and he could be issued another ticket for refusing to sign. He could even be taken to jail. Klump explained how to get in touch with the courts, what the man's rights were, and again that signing was not an admission of guilt. Finally, the man signed, and Klump confiscated the extra clams. The extra clams would be donated to a food bank or frozen as evidence.

Despite the long hours and dangerous situations - everybody he contacts usually has a knife or a gun - Klump said he never considered another job.

"I like being in the field," he said. "I've got to be in the field."

He is following a family tradition. His father was a fish and wildlife officer before him. "I grew up in it," he said.

His enthusiasm and dedication are a hallmark of the individuals who work as fish and wildlife officers, protecting the resources of the state.

"It's not 'I've got to go to work,'" he said. "It's 'I get to go to work."

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