LONG BEACH - For the first time since last fall, when domoic acid levels peaked at over 130 parts per million (ppm), it looks like there could be some clam digging in Long Beach - very possibly by mid-April.

On Monday, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Coastal Shellfish Lead Biologist Dan Ayres said that tests done in recent weeks show that levels for Long Beach have dropped dramatically.

Clams need to contain less than 20 ppm of domoic acid before they are considered safe for human consumption, according to WDFW.

On March 24, WDFW reported that levels for Long Beach had dropped to just above 30 ppm, which was good news. But the news got even better when two of the three sets of samples tested on March 31 were just below 20 ppm.

On Tuesday morning Ayres said, "we sampled again yesterday but until we have those back we won't have a real picture." The results are expected to be available some time this week.

If the clams tested on Monday all come back below the action level, then another set of samples will be collected on April 14. At that point, if all those are below 20 ppm, then it would be only a matter of days before people would be clamming in Long Beach.

"State health requires two sets of samples seven to 10 days a part before the season could be opened," he said. "All the samples from April 7 and April 14 - all six sets - would have to come back clean."

Ayres said WDFW has been collecting samples every two weeks from the state's five clamming areas since last fall, but in light of the dramatic drop in levels seen in Long Beach on March 24, testing was stepped up, which was why another round of tests were run on March 31.

The same is not true for the state's other clamming areas, which still show unusually high domoic acid levels, some as high as the 80 ppm range.

Of all clamming areas, Ayres said the one which has the most likely chance of seeing some digging this spring is Long Beach.

"What we're seeing in Long Beach, it definitely is encouraging, and if we do get clean samples from April 7 and April 14, we will open the clamming there pretty quickly," he said. "There will be some complaints because people won't have time to get licenses or make plans, but we don't want to miss an opportunity. So, people may want to be prepared."

According to Ayres, if domoic acid levels remain below the action level, clam digging would be allowed for blocks of days, possibly as much as a week at a time, until the end of May, which is traditionally the cutoff for clamming.

Ayres said that testing would continue through the end of May, and if at any point during that time any clams show levels above 20 ppm, then clamming would be halted. He said that when Long Beach's levels are so close to the action level, there is always the risk of one set of samples jumping back over action level, which would result in an emergency closure.

"Folks will want to keep a close ear to your paper and other sources," he said. "If we do open the season, it will only be a couple days notice. If there is a chance we can open the season before the end of May we are sure going to do it."

After the end of May, the next time that there could be clamming in Long Beach is in the fall.

• WDFW's domoic acid data can also be seen on its web site at: www.wa.gov/wdfw/fish/shelfish/razorclm/levels/levels.htm

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