LONG BEACH — Before looking ahead to the 2016-17 Long Beach Peninsula razor clam season, first look back 25 years to when 1991’s number one hit song was “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.”
In case you’ve forgotten, here are some of Bryan Adams’ lyrics: “Don’t tell me it’s not worth fightin’ for. I can’t help it, there’s nothin’ I want more. You know it’s true. Everything I do, I do it for you, oh yeah.”
This sounds like a lot of avid clam fans.
Why else should they care about what happened 25 years ago? Because that’s the last time there were so many clams ready to harvest in the sands of south Pacific County.
Nearing the end of the annual weeks-long assessment of clam populations, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports “the largest population of harvestable clams on Long Beach for at least the last 25 years.”
Enough adult clams survived and so many juveniles have matured since last year that there are 4.9 million clams ready for digging when the new season commences this fall between the mouth of the Columbia River and Leadbetter Point, WDFW Coastal Shellfish Manager Dan Ayres said last week.
This is “just a shade higher” than 2015’s total allowable catch of 4.8 million, and the best in a quarter century, Ayres said.
“We have yet to tabulate all of our length data so I can’t provide an estimate of the average size, but I can tell you there are a lot of nice clams that are now recovering from spawning and will be ready for the frying pan come October,” he said.
The stock assessment is a result of an elaborate process that involves hydraulically separating all clams of every size from samples of sand at several locations, and then figuring the likely total for the entire beach. Managers aim to leave 70 percent of mature 3-inch-plus clams unharvested each year on the Peninsula to ensure a robust reproducing population for future seasons.
The clam season that should have started in October 2015 was seriously impacted by the presence of the marine toxin domoic acid, a byproduct of an extensive bloom of a type of saltwater algae. Although the bloom ended by around mid-year, it took many more weeks for clams to clear the toxins through their guts and meat. (The toxin does not harm clams, but can kill birds and mammals.)
The Peninsula finally opened on Jan. 7, 2016. Copalis Beach in the vicinity of Ocean Shores opened Dec. 24, 2015. Mocrocks, just south of the Quinault Indian Reservation, opened Feb. 19. Twin Harbors in north Pacific/south Grays Harbor counties and Kalaloch Beach in Olympic National Park were unable to open at all.
Despite the delay, there ended up being plenty of digging on the Long Beach Peninsula.
“With some creative planning we did provide as much digging opportunity during the shortened season as we could with Long Beach reaping the most benefit where we recorded 94 days with harvest,” Ayres said.
More than 2.61 million clams were harvested on local beaches before the season was closed May 8, a result of 187,261 “digger trips,” for an average of 14 clams on each outing. During the previous 2014-15 season, the harvest was 2.29 million from 162,558 outings.
Some local dissatisfaction was expressed about ending the 2015-16 season while 2.19 million of the season’s allowable catch remained unharvested. However, managers said closure was required to safeguard nesting shorebirds at Leadbetter.
Nevertheless, Long Beach-Ocean Park clamming was the statewide success story of the 2015-16 season. “The Copalis and Mocrocks total number of days were much lower, which is due to the fact we share these beach with the Quinault Nation and therefore also need to share good low tides. On Mocrocks we had 27 days of digging and on Copalis a total of 15 days,” Ayres said.
Compared to the southern coast, WDFW biologists “aren’t as far along with the data for Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch, but overall things look good on each of those beaches” for 2016-17, he said.
In contrast to the spring and summer of 2015 when domoic acid levels spiked and then took months to recede to safe levels in seafood species, there has been little sign of the toxin this spring and summer. This finally nudged all of Washington’s outer coastal beaches into the safe zone.
“The one additional piece of good news is that domoic acid levels at Twin Harbors finally fell below the action level earlier this month and if we don’t have a repeat of last year’s harmful algal bloom we will be able to get diggers back on that beach this fall,” Ayres said. “We continue to monitor surf-zone plankton levels from our lab in Nahcotta.”
The most recent tests in the Long Beach-Ocean Park area found a maximum domoic level of 6 parts per million in clams on July 11, well below the closure threshold of 20 ppm. The maximum level on Twin Harbors beaches in north Pacific County was 8 ppm on July 11. Clams in the Twin Harbors took until June 20 to fall below 20 ppm for the first time in more than 14 months, after topping out at 169 ppm on May 26, 2015.
The commercial razor clam digging area on the Willapa Spits also was at an acceptable level of 19 ppm, as of its most recently reported testing on June 6.
Official setting of coastal recreational seasons is still weeks away.
“In September, after we have completed all of this work, we will be posting our Razor Clam Management Update on our website and then open a public comment period,” Ayres said.