OLYMPIA - Clam diggers on the Long Beach Peninsula may have an opportunity to harvest more razor clams during the upcoming season than any time in the past 35 years as long as wastage doesn't force a reduction in digging days, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

"The abundance of razor clams at Long Beach this year presents a real opportunity for both diggers and the community as a whole," said Dan Ayres, WDFW razor clam biologist. "But we want everyone to know that any wastage observed during the upcoming opening - and those that follow - could play a role in determining the number of days open for digging this season."

Noting that WDFW rules require harvesters to keep all clams they dig toward their 15-clam daily limit, Ayres said he is concerned that the abundance of both large and small clams at Long Beach this year could tempt some diggers to discard the smaller clams in the hope of finding larger ones.

Ayres said WDFW enforcement officers will be out in force at all razor clam beaches during the season opener to ensure that diggers observe rules against wastage and comply with daily bag limits.   "A large percentage of discarded clams die, so we have to take them into account in estimating the total harvest for the season, said Ayres, noting that last year's non-tribal razor clam season at Kalaloch was cut short for that very reason. "If we see a lot of people wasting clams, we're going to have to curtail the non-tribal season accordingly."

That would be a shame, Ayres said, particularly since the 2002-03 season is shaping up to be one of the best in recent history. He noted that, of the 6.2 million clams included in the non-tribal Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the Washington coast during the upcoming season, nearly 3 million are buried beneath the sand on the Long Beach Peninsula.

That is nearly one million more than last year's TAC for Long Beach, and could open the door to the largest clam harvest on the Peninsula since 1967, according to WDFW records.

"If people follow the rules, this could be one of the most successful razor clam seasons in decades," Ayres said. "We just hope people get the message that it isn't worth jeopardizing this year's season - or future seasons - for a few extra clams."

To find the bigger clams - some with a shell length of up to six inches - look for the big "show holes" in the sand, Ayres said. "It's not foolproof, but it will give diggers a better chance of harvesting the bigger clams without so much trial and error."

Ayres also reminds prospective diggers that they must have a 2002-03 license (shellfish/seaweed, combination or two-day) to participate in the season opening. Licenses can be purchased at any one of hundreds of dealers throughout the state, including most sporting goods stores. Licenses can also be purchased over the phone ((866) 246-9453) or via the Internet http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/

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