State releases razor clam harvest dates

It’s almost that time of year again

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released its tentative schedule for razor clam harvesting on coastal beaches.

Beginning next week, 56 days are marked for digging up the delectable shore dwellers, pending the results of a toxin test, said WDFW’s coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres.

“We’re headed for a real good season. Last year was a record season by almost every measure,” said Ayres in a phone interview. “We’re seeing strong populations of razor clams.”

The beaches of Western Washington have some of the richest harvests of the mollusks, Ayres said. The first day of harvesting is scheduled for the morning of Sept. 22, pending the results of the toxin test. Copalis, Long Beach, Mocrocks and Twin Harbors are all open for harvesting, while Kalaloch Beach is closed due to low population numbers.

“From Ocean Shores north, it’s not unusual to have 20,000 people digging razor clams,” Ayres said. “It’s easily the most popular shellfish fishery in the state.”

While the limit is currently set by the state at 15 clams per digger, per day, Ayres said the sheer volume of harvesters means an estimated take of millions of clams, with the department working all summer to accurately forecast the number of mature clams for the purposes of planning the harvest days.

“I’d guess in the neighborhood of 6 million (clams harvested),” Ayres said. “We target our harvest at no more than 40 percent of the estimated population.”

Rising tides lift all boats

The same good conditions that have lead to banner harvests in 2021, and hopefully, 2022, are also fueling growth of the algae that create toxins that can be found in shellfish like the razor clams.

“If the ocean’s healthy, we’re going to have lots of clams. That’s all there is to it. Good upwelling conditions is really the key that brings those nutrients up,” Ayres said. “Razor clams get a lot of food and they’re happy. Those other species are also getting those conditions.”

The toxins generated are a form of neurotoxin, Ayres said, that affect anything with a brain. California is seeing a spate of sea lions affected by eating animals further down the food chain with sufficient amounts of the toxin to damage them, Ayres said. Symptoms of ingesting too much of the toxin include stroke-like symptoms and can result in death.

“This toxic substance that affects any animal with a brain, like us, or marine mammals. It’s not a bad guy, it’s just doing its job,” Ayres said. “This is a toxin that produces brain damage. It’s permanent. There’s no reversal.”

Ayres said being careful and following the state’s recommendations about toxin levels present in razor clams they’ve tested will keep residents health.

“We’ve never had any serious human illness in Washington with this,” Ayres said. “I love my razor clams. I grew up here. I’ve been working here for 40 years and I’ve never been sick.”

Harvesting dos and don’ts

The designated harvest days are intended to limit the amount of clams harvested to an amount the population can absorb, Ayres said.

“We really do design the harvest around the strength of the population. People complain that there’s fewer days, but we do that to make sure there’s clams down the road,” Ayres said. “Razor clams are pretty forgiving.”

The scheduled hours are based around the tide tables. The tides, driven by the rotation of the planet and the gravity of the sun and moon, are slightly beyond the control of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ayres said.

“We set razor clam openers around the best low tide of the day. Around this time, it’s in the PM hours,” Ayres said. “People don’t understand that’s how tides work and the state of Washington doesn’t control that.”

While many of the tides, especially further into the season, occur after local sunset, the best time for harvesting razor clams is not necessarily at the maximum ebb tide.

“Unfortunately some of those best low tides are after dark. It’s not because the state has it out against people who don’t see in the dark,” Ayres said. “You actually should be digging at least an hour or even two hours before that. You want to be digging when the tide is going out.”

While initial limits are set at 15 clams per digger per day, that may change, Ayres said.

“That 15 clam limit is important. We’re cranking it back down to 15 for now,” Ayres said. “We’re gonna watch these toxin levels and see where they’re at. But down the road, we might crank it back up 20.”

Diggers must collect the first 15 clams they dig up, according to the department, and each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container. All diggers older than 15 must have an applicable, valid fishing license, according to the department.

And what’s Ayres’ favorite way of preparing clams?

“I’m not very fancy. I just love ‘em fried,” Ayres said. “Fried razor clams can’t be beat.”