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Long, Dark Year of Razor Clam Closures Likely - Status of Washington, Oregon Coast

Published 05/14/21 at 5:55 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Long, Dark Year of Razor Clam Closures Likely - Status of Washington, Oregon Coast

(Seaside, Oregon) – It looks like it will be a long, dark year for razor clamming on the north Oregon coast and maybe the Washington coast. Closures due to biotoxins remain in place for half of the Oregon coast and the vast majority of the Washington side, with the Oregon closures having started all the way back in October. (Photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

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Currently, everything in Washington is closed for recreational razor clamming except for a small area starting near Copalis and ending at Moclips. All beaches north of Florence’s north jetty – all the way through to Warrenton – are closed to the activity, but the southern half of the coast is open, including Reedsport, Gold Beach and Brookings.

The closures are to keep people safe from getting sick on natural poisons that are now invading razor clams, and these in turn are created by harmful algae blooms (HAB’s), according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

This extended closure looks as if it may continue at least through the fall of this year, said ODFW’s shellfish leader Matt Hunter. Domoic acid levels are extremely high, even compared to the 16-month closure that happened a few years back.

“The last HAB and domoic acid event in 2016 had a December peak domoic acid level half of what we saw this past December and the fishery was closed until October 2017,” Hunter said. “We hope this does not happen again, but clammers should be aware it’s not unrealistic for an extended razor clam harvesting closure.”

The area that will get hit the hardest will be the Clatsop Beach area of Seaside through Warrenton, where at least 80 percent of all the state’s razor clams reside. It’s been closed since October, but its annual conservation closure is a mere two months away. Every July, ODFW shuts down razor clamming there through September to let the baby clams set and grow to maturity.

So if the domoic acid levels are cleared, will there be a reopening during the usual closure?

No, Hunter told Oregon Coast Beach Connection, the closure is part of ODFW’s mandate.

In the end, it looks like Clatsop Beach won’t see recreational digging for these tasty beauties until at least the end of September. Other areas south of there could open up, however, even though their population numbers aren’t as thick.

Willapa Bay, Washington (courtesy Wallapa Harbor Visitors Center)

Washington’s coastline is not looking good, either. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, toxin levels in the Long Beach Peninsula area stayed extremely high since October, dipping sizably in recent weeks. Yet not enough to open things up.

Why is this invasion of domoic acid so harsh and long-lasting right now? It’s a perfect storm of aligning conditions, Hunter said.

Weather, ocean currents, HAB’s and the clams’ own physiology are the main culprits. Then there was a lack of available food sources for them back in the fall and winter, which is not uncommon.

“The problem began when a late September ‘stall’ in ocean current and winds caused an offshore HAB,” Hunter said. “This stall resulted from the coastal current remaining southward instead of the fall transition northward and weak but predominant winds from the north rather than from the south.”

If that had not happened and the coastline turned to its normal patterns, wave action would’ve broken up the algae. Instead, the stall lingered into October and shuttled HAB’s to the Clatsop Beach clams, which ingested the stuff. The biotoxin rapidly accumulates in a clam’s tissue.

Hunter said the biotoxin levels found in the clams were ten times what they were back in 2016 when that last extended closure hit.

Meanwhile, mussel, bay clam and crab harvesting remain open along the entire Oregon coast. Coastal scallops are not affected by biotoxin closures when only the adductor muscle is eaten.

For more information call Oregon's shellfish biotoxin hotline at (800) 448-2474, the Food Safety Division at (503) 986-4720, or visit the ODA Recreational Shellfish Biotoxin Closures Webpage.

For the latest on Washington's shellfish status, see the WDFW site.

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Photos below courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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