PENINSULA — After long weeks waiting for shellfish to clear a marine toxin they absorbed last summer, diggers began hitting local beaches on Thursday, Jan. 7, finding large and abundant razor clams.
The current opening runs through this Thursday, when a low tide of 0.2 feet doesn’t occur until 9:40 p.m. The season opener last Thursday was lightly attended, but the weekend brought a better return of welcome mid-winter crowds to Long Beach Peninsula towns.
More than 1.7 million clams are allocated for harvest in the shortened 2015-16 season. It was unknown at the Chinook Observer’s print deadline how many were dug in these initial days.
“We’re just now working on the data to produce the harvest estimates for the Long Beach days we’ve had open so far, so I don’t any specific numbers yet, but overall digging has been quite good,” Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, said this Monday. “The surf was up a couple of days and that created digging challenges for some folks — but even with that, most folks we’ve talked to have had their limits.”
The algae that produces the toxic domoic acid responsible for the season delay is no longer a problem, but it can take months for clams to process the toxin out of their systems. The toxin does not harm the clams, and the algae that produces the toxin is a nutritious food for clams. Clam samples taken two weeks ago near the north end of the Peninsula contained an average of 19 parts per million of toxin, just within the legal limit that requires less than 20 ppm.
“We will be collecting more clams for toxin testing by the Washington Department of Health later this week and we expect to have those results on Tuesday, Jan. 19, delayed a day due to the Martin Luther King Holiday on Jan. 18,” Ayres said. “If those results are good, we’ll announce another string of dates. I’ll admit I am a little nervous with the one area testing at 19 ppm of domoic acid on the last round and know that could easily pop up over 20 ppm — not because of new toxin, but only because of the sampling variability. So, we have hesitated to announce specific dates until we know we are good to go.”
WDFW plans to offer as many digging days as toxin levels will allow for the remainder of the season, Ayres said. Tests are conducted about every 10 days.