Clam season set to open Oct. 13

<p>Clammers traverse the low tide beach in Seaview during an A.M. clam tide last spring.</p>

LONG BEACH — Decades of coastal urging for more generous razor clam quotas appear likely to combine with natural conditions to produce one of the best clam seasons in years, with digging tentatively set to start Oct. 13, depending on the outcome of marine toxin tests.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) last week set the total allowable catch for 2012-13 at 1,847,952 clams on the Long Beach Peninsula. This is a 74 percent increase from last season’s harvest total of about 1,063,000 clams and a 58 percent increase above the average harvest between 2008 and this spring.

“We are looking forward to a really great season,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. “We’re still in the process of determining additional fall and winter digging opportunities, but we wanted to give people a chance to start making plans for October,” Ayres added, noting that WDFW will announce additional razor-clam digs later that month.

The total number of adult clams 3 inches and longer currently in local sands is estimated at 5,356,000, and there are about 14,450,000 immature clams. There were a few more mature clams in the 2009-10 season than now, but the current number of immature clams is a record compared to recent years.

If the average daily harvest tracks what it has been, this means there ought to be about 40 digging days ahead this season on the Peninsula, compared to 23 last season.

Upcoming dig

Proposed digging days and evening low tides for beaches tentatively scheduled to open in October are:

• Oct. 13 (Saturday), 5:41 p.m., (+0.3 ft.); Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks

• Oct. 14 (Sunday), 6:26 p.m., (-0.5 ft.); Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks

• Oct. 15 (Monday), 7:11 p.m., (-1.1 ft.); Long Beach, Twin Harbors

• Oct. 16 (Tuesday), 7:57 p.m., (-1.5 ft.); Twin Harbors

• Oct. 17 (Wednesday), 8:44 p.m., (-1.6 ft.); Twin Harbors

• Oct. 18 (Thursday), 9:34 p.m., (-1.4 ft.); Twin Harbors

  “Low tides will occur relatively late in the day, so diggers need to be prepared for darkness during evening digs in the fall,” Ayres said.

  All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2012-13 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW’s website at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov and from license vendors around the state.

  Under state law, each digger can take 15 razor clams per day, and must keep the first 15 clams they dig to prevent wastage. Each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container.

New quota system

WDFW has implemented a new way of determining how many clams can be dug on the Peninsula and also in WDFW’s Twin Harbors area, from the mouth of Willapa Bay in north Pacific County to just south of Westport in Grays Harbor County.

Here on the Peninsula, this new system sets this coming harvest at 34.5 percent of mature clams, compared to 30 percent for many previous years. The harvest rate for Twin Harbors will be 40 percent, based on an “exceptional” clam stock that “exceeds any population we have measured on this beach in the last 16 years.”

The new system, dubbed the Variable Exploitation Rate, is based on the “biomass that allows maximum sustained yield,” or BSMY, which in effect is the highest historical density of clams on each beach since modern surveys began. This heavily relies on how many clams WDFW finds at each beach during population surveys, with the Long Beach Peninsula currently coming in at 0.75 per square meter (slightly larger than a square yard.) The far shorter beaches at Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks average 2.58, 2.12 and 2.78, respectively. Kalaloch Beach in Olympic National Park averages 0.66.

Forty percent is the maximum allowed harvest under the new system. If a beach’s clam population drops below 10 percent of BSMY, there will be no harvest that year. Long Beach’s current BSMY is 67.3 percent, or about one-third less than all-time record population.

Local efforts

Several individuals knowledgeable about clams have been advocating larger clam quotas, including Tom Downer of Jack’s Country Store, fisherman Steve Gray and state Rep. Dean Takko, D-District 19. Clam diggers squirt a huge sum of money into the coastal economy.

Downer, at least, is dissatisfied with WDFW’s response.

“The fundamental flaw persists,” Downer said Monday. “Addressing the numerous observations that conspicuously debunk the theory that razor clams do not move laterally is just one step toward fixing the problem. As long as the bureaucrats who hold the power continue to advance the protection of the bureaucracy over the stated goal of managing the resource to the maximum benefit of the citizens, there will be no permanent correction to the course.”

Takko said Tuesday that he is happy with the changes and the prospect of an ample upcoming season. If WDFW were to tinker with seasons any more than they already have, the state lawmaker said he would like to see them emphasize clam digs on weekends that do not already have scheduled tourist-attracting events in order to maximize the economic benefits of clams. But he notes that the digging schedule is somewhat dictated by needing to correspond to favorable tides.

Where to dig

The WDFW survey for the coming season found the average length of mature clams here is 3.99 inches, slightly smaller than the 4.1 inches recorded at the start of last season but a little longer than the 3.91 inches average in 2010.

The analysis of where clams occur on the Peninsula makes it clear that it is virtually two beaches as far as clams are concerned. The average density per meter is substantially less than 1.0 from the south end to mile 17, and then generally improves the farther north one goes except for a dip below 1.0 at mile 21. The highest density on the Peninsula is about 3.5 at mile 24 near the north end.

Comments still sought

WDFW said it generally plans to spread clams days throughout each month of the season, but remains open to suggestions. Comments can be sent via email to razorclams@dfw.wa.gov or by postal mail to: RazorClams, 48 Devonshire Rd., Montesano, WA 98563.

Comments regarding fall digging opportunities must be received by Oct. 9, Ayres said.

The 2011-12 razor clam season ended May 7, with a total of 2.5 million clams harvested in 195,000 digger trips, the lowest harvest and effort in the last 12 years, Ayres said. He said the drop mirrors a decline in clam numbers, due to the natural cycle of coastal razor-clam populations.

Management options for the upcoming razor clam season are available at www.tinyurl.com/blm7jlx.

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