Pre-season population assessments show there will be fewer razor clams available for harvest this season. The decline, said state coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres, is due to the natural cycle of razor clam populations.
“We’ll have a little less digging this season,” Ayres said. “But we’ll probably save as much as we can for spring dates. People like that, the conditions are better and the clams are bigger.”
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s estimate of clams large enough to be harvested for the 2011-12 season is almost 13.36 million clams. The state’s allowable share of clams that can be harvested is 2.83 million clams.
At Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch, the state splits the allowable catch with treaty Indian tribes.
Kalaloch again is the big question mark for shellfish managers, with populations still below average. The beach was closed to digging last spring because managers were concerned about population declines. Ayres plans to meet with staffers at Olympic National Park, which manages that beach, to discuss options.
“We just don’t know what we’re going to do there yet,” Ayres said.
The first dig is expected to be held in late October.
A LOOK BACK
During the 2010-11 season, clam diggers harvested about 3.2 million razor clams on the five ocean beaches open for digging on the coast. According to Ayres, there were 244,500 digger trips last season, with each trip resulting in an average of 13.1 clams. In comparison, clam diggers in 2009-10 harvested more than 3.7 million clams, the best since the 2004-05 season.
Among the highlights from last season:
• Clamming on the Kalaloch beaches was shut down in March by Olympic National Park because of concerns over poor catch rates.
• More than 19,000 people took part in the dig on New Year’s Eve, even though temperatures were just above freezing.
• There was higher-than-normal wastage during some of the spring digs, in particular at Twin Harbors. A number of people were cited for wasting clams.
COLLECTING PUBLIC’S THOUGHTS
Meanwhile, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is gathering public comments on the upcoming razor clam season. The department wants input on digging days, catch limits and other management options.
“One of our puzzles is should we allow any digging in December,” Ayres said. “The best low tides fall around Christmas time. We’ve never allowed much digging around Christmas because people have so many other plans. If people have strong feelings either way, I’d like to hear from them.”
Comments regarding fall digs must be received by Thursday, although the department will consider other suggestions throughout the season.
This is the second year that the department is soliciting public comments on digging options by mail and email as a lower-cost alternative to conducting a series of public meetings, Ayres said.
“We welcome public feedback in developing razor-clam seasons, but state budget reductions have made it necessary to change our approach,” Ayres said. “We received a lot of good suggestions last year, and we look forward to hearing from diggers on this year’s season.”
Here is the forecast for each of the five beach areas.
The total allowable catch will be 1.09 million clams, down from a 1.28 million limit last season followed by a harvest of 1.17 million clams. The overall number of clams is 3.65 million, slightly below the five-year average of 4.24 million. Populations are largest north of Klipsan. Average clam size is 4.1 inches.
Outlook: Numbers are down from last season, but not in a dramatic way. There will be fewer days of digging. “We’ve seen a bit of a shift, with more clams in the center of the beach,” Ayres said. There are a good number of small clams on the beach, which is good news for future years.
The total allowable catch will be 616,000 clams, down from a 845,000 limit and a harvest of 675,000 clams last season. The overall number of clams is 2.05 million, slightly below the five-year average of 2.99 million. Population densities are highest at North Cove and Grayland. The average clam size is 3.7 inches.
Outlook: Numbers are down and so is the average size. Because there was an above-normal wastage last season, shellfish biologists and law enforcement officers will be paying attention this year, Ayres said. He also noted an unusual buildup of sand there, making the beach steeper than usual. “The poles marking the clam reserve are 20 feet long, but only about 3 feet are sticking up out of the sand.”
The state’s share of the total allowable catch is just 371,000, down from 743,000 last season. The harvest last season was 674,000 clams. The total population this season is 2.48 million, down from the five-year average of 5 million. Clam densities are spread evenly from Ocean Shores to Copalis. The average size is 4 inches.
Outlook: This area is one of the most popular with South Sound diggers, but they can expect fewer opportunities. Numbers are down about 40 percent. “We didn’t see a lot of small clams in summer of 2010 so it’s not a surprise,” Ayres said. “We’ll do some digging, but there will be far less this year. I don’t know what to make of that (decline). This is little more of an ebb than I would like to see, but I’m not setting off the fire alarm just yet.”
The state’s share of the total allowable catch is 606,000, up from 546,000 last season, when the harvest was 532,000 clams. The total population is 4.03 million, compared with the five-year average of 3.81 million. The clam densities are highest from Copalis Rocks to Roosevelt Beach. The average size is 4.1 inches.
Outlook: Mocrocks is the lone beach showing a population increase this year. “Mocrocks has always been the most productive beach. It’s always been razor clam central,” Ayres said.
The state’s total allowable catch is 145,000, down from 259,000 last year when the harvest was just 14,300. The population is at 1.14 million, down from the five-year average of 1.65 million and down by almost two-thirds from two years ago. The best numbers are in front of the campground and north. The average size is 3.71 inches.
Outlook: The decline seems to be a natural progression, Ayres said. A decision on whether to open the beach will be made in the coming weeks.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure