Amid COVID concern, state calls off clam dig that was to start Friday

  • Fri Mar 20th, 2020 3:00pm
  • News

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife called off the razor clam dig that was to start Friday, responding to an order Thursday from the Pacific County Health Officer closing beaches to razor clam digging because of concern about COVID-19.

State shellfish managers said the dig had been approved after vetting the decision with county officials and health departments in Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties, and after consultation with state health officials.

Digs were scheduled March 20-23 and included beaches north and south of Grays Harbor and the Long Beach Peninsula.

“WDFW is responsive to the needs of local communities, and we manage razor clams in consultation with our coastal communities to ensure sustainable harvest,” said Larry Phillips, WDFW’s coastal region director. “But, under these circumstances, we need to include more than sustainable harvest in our decision making and do what is the best for the community. We understand that the county health department is responding to a global pandemic and WDFW is cancelling these digs to support that work and keep folks healthy.”

There was a lot of dialogue and a fairly long process to approve these digs in light of COVID-19 concerns, and it has been a rapidly evolving issue, Phillips said. “Typically, we would want to provide much more notice before cancelling a razor clam dig,” Phillips said via a news release.

On Thursday, Pacific County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Steven Krager, ordered that all digs in Pacific County be cancelled until further notice in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. As of Thursday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pacific County.

A news release from the Pacific County Emergency Management response team, said Krager’s order was due to: “(a) the increased likelihood that gatherings will attract people from a broad geographic area; (b) the prolonged time period in which large numbers of people are in close proximity; (c) the difficulty in tracing exposure when large numbers of people attend a single event; (d) the inability to ensure that attendees follow adequate hygienic and social distancing practices; and (e) the potential impact on community resources including food, pharmaceutical supplies, and healthcare resources.”

Given the level of concern expressed in the communities, and the fact that some of the beaches open to razor clam digging fall within multiple counties, we also elected to close all currently open beaches to razor clam digging in order to provide consistency in approach, added Phillips.

Grays Harbor County Commissioner Randy Ross said the county’s public health officer determined there was minimal risk to the general population as long as social distancing guidance was followed.

“There have been several citizens concerned about the influx of clam diggers to the area and the possible spread of the COVID 19 virus to local citizens. I certainly understand the concerns expressed by local citizens, but the science of social distancing does not seem to support those concerns,” said Ross.

Thursday afternoon Ross said it was his understanding that neither the Board of Health nor the county commissioners had the power to shut down access to state beaches and the county was looking to Fish & Wildlife for guidance. A short time later, the department called off the dig.

WDFW has tentatively scheduled additional digs through April. Approval of these digs will be based on the results of marine toxin tests, assessment of available health information and further developments in consultation with local and state health authorities.