PENINSULA — As night fell and the tide receded, people armed with shovels and flashlights descended on Peninsula beaches Friday and Saturday in search of razor clams. For those who braved darkness and bouts of rain, it was a successful start to the fall razor clam season.

“It was decent, definitely worth doing it,” said Sportsmen’s Cannery co-owner Tina Ward in between cleaning buckets of clams Sunday morning. Ward said diggers brought in 120 limits or about 1,800 clams to the Seaview cannery over the weekend. She anticipates that the best digging days are still ahead.

“The next tides (in November and December) will be a lot better,” she said.

Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said, “Overall it was a good weekend of clam digging on all beaches, with a coast-wide total of 28,300 diggers taking an average of 12.5 clams per digger home. On Long Beach, 10,400 diggers averaged 11.9 clams per digger and the best digging was from Oysterville north.”

Photos posted on social media sites over the weekend showed large clams and full limits between Surfside and Leadbetter.

The naturally occurring marine toxin domoic acid played havoc with fall seasons the previous two years. In 2016, clamming was off limits from October through mid-spring, when clam meat at last consistently dropped below 20 parts per million. This allowed 11 days of digging in late April and early May. Domoic levels also were too high for digging in fall 2015 before dipping to 19 ppm or less in mid-December.

“Our latest surf zone plankton counts show that the domoic acid-producing diatom (Pseudo-nitzschia) is still present, but there is very little domoic acid showing up in our water samples,” Ayres said.

However, a NOAA/University of Washington buoy capable of remotely sampling harmful algal species and for domoic acid last Friday reported a significant jump in domoic acid in the ocean off La Push on the Olympic Peninsula, Ayres said. Washington Department of Health tests of clams collected late last week from Kalaloch Beach in Olympic National Park may show whether the toxin is having an impact on clams in the surf zone, where WDFW is monitoring water quality.

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