OLYMPIA - On Tuesday, clam diggers got the green light to proceed with the first razor clam dig of the fall season, scheduled Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 14-16, on evening tides here and on three other Washington beaches.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) approved the digs at Long Beach, Mocrocks, Copalis and Twin Harbors beaches after a series of marine toxin tests confirmed that the clams on those beaches are safe to eat. Tests Monday found levels of domoic acid in Peninsula clams of 2 parts per million; no digging is allowed when the level reaches 20 ppm or more.

No digging will be allowed at any beach before noon any day during the three-day opening.

Kalaloch Beach, jointly managed by WDFW and Olympic National Park, will remain closed to digging in October, because levels of toxic domoic acid found in clams tested there are above the state and federal health standard of 20 parts per million.

Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, said test results released today show that clams on the four beaches south of Kalaloch remain safe to eat, despite the presence of a large bloom of toxic algae 15 miles off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Certain types of algae can produce domoic acid, which can be fatal if consumed in sufficient quanitites.

"Health officials have confirmed that clams on the four beaches scheduled to open for digging this week are safe to eat," Ayres said. "We're just hoping that the bloom will break up and move offshore, so we can avoid the kind of situation we saw two years ago."

In October 2002, a storm pushed a bloom of toxic algae onshore, prompting WDFW to close razor-clam digging for the entire season. (See http://wdfw.wa.gov/science/ on WDFW's Web site for an overview of domoic acid and the razor clam fishery.)

Under WDFW rules, harvesters may take no more than 15 razor clams and must keep the first 15 taken, regardless of size or condition. Each digger's limit must be kept in a separate container.

Those interested in harvesting razor clams are reminded that a license is required for anyone age 15 or older. Any 2004 annual shellfish/seaweed license purchased last spring is still valid.

One new option is a "razor clam only" license now available in both annual and three-day versions. Descriptions of the various licensing options are available on the WDFW Web site at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov

For anyone needing to purchase a license, Ayres strongly recommends doing so before leaving home to avoid long lines that often form at coastal license dealers during a dig.

"We'll make every effort to accommodate people who arrive at the beach needing a license, but it really makes more sense to get one before you leave home," Ayres said.

Like last year, WDFW will sell licenses at the Willapa Bay Field Station, 26700 Sandridge Rd., Ocean Park, on the Long Beach Peninsula to help ease the pressure on coastal dealers, Ayres said. The Field Station, also known as the "Nahcotta Lab," will sell licenses from noon to 7 p.m. Oct. 14 and from 1 p.m. until 8 p.m. Oct. 15 and 16.

For best results, Ayres recommends that clam enthusiasts start digging at least one hour before low tide.

Low tides during the three-day opening this month (as computed by WDFW) are as follows:

• Thursday, Oct. 14 - 7:38 p.m. (-0.6 feet)

• Friday, Oct. 15 - 8:20 p.m. (-1.0 feet)

• Saturday, Oct. 16 - 9:05 p.m. (-1.2)

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