Increasing levels of marine toxins have canceled all razor clam digs tentatively scheduled for Nov. 13-19, and are creating uncertainty in the proposed digs scheduled to begin Dec. 1.
Current test results on razor clams dug at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Kalaloch and Copalis indicate levels of domoic acid, a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae that can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities.
Digs that were scheduled for Oct. 31-Nov. 2 were canceled due domoic levels exceeding the threshold set by state public health officials for safe consumption.
“Concentrations of domoic acid have increased rapidly beyond safe consumption thresholds set by the Washington Department of Health,” said Larry Phillips, coastal region director with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It is entirely possible that we will see higher than safe levels, even into December.”
Fish and Wildlife has seen near record participation on recent digs. To avoid concentrating clam diggers and disproportionately increasing the risk of COVID-19, all razor clam beaches are closed for harvest statewide.
As of the last test, the clams at Mocrocks Beach are still safe to eat, but to avoid concentrations of diggers in one location it’s among the beaches closed. Domoic acid levels at Mocrocks have risen closer to unhealthy levels and may have risen to unsafe levels since the latest tests were recorded, according to Fish and Wildlife.
“Because cell counts of the diatom species (algae) that is producing domoic acid are so high in surf zone water samples taken from Mocrocks, we fully expect the domoic acid levels on this beach to also to soon be over the action level,” when the clams are considered unsafe to eat, said state coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres.
Razor clam diggers have enjoyed more than 80,000 trips and harvested nearly 1.2 million clams in 2020, but the department won’t be able to announce if tentatively scheduled December digs, including a Dec. 1-4 dig, can move forward until marine toxin test results are conducted in mid-November.
Public health officials will also be closely monitoring the incidence of COVID-19 throughout the digging season, and Fish and Wildlife will rely on their guidance when making in-season adjustments to the schedule if necessary to reduce public health risks.