Washington Razor Clam
This season setting package includes:
- Review of the 2015-16 Season
- Marine Toxin Update / ORHAB
- Status of Razor Clam Stocks
- Tribal Co-management
- Digging with Kids
- Season Options for 2016-17
Watch the department’s video to learn more about how WDFW assesses razor clam populations.
Over time, the management of razor clams and the setting of recreational seasons have become more complicated. Historically, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife - (WDFW), formally the Department of Fisheries, conducted mark/recapture population estimates and then opened all the major management beaches on the coast at the same time. Usually these were very liberal seasons that depended on limits and other restrictions to balance the resource with the number of users. Dramatic increases in the number of clam diggers, a devastating clam disease, the addition of tribal harvesting and increases in marine toxins have lead to the need for a more conservative and scientific approach to management.
In more recent years, the total number of days open for harvest are reduced to a total as few as15 to 35 days for the entire season (October to May). Each beach is now managed as a separate entity with razor clam openers that often vary by beach. Diggers have become more flexible and those who traditionally only harvested razor clams on one particular beach are now more likely to go to which ever beach is open. However, diggers need to continue to be aware of which beach is open which day - before leaving home.
The season setting process starts with a very detailed summer population analysis of each beach. After population sampling is completed, the total number of clams is estimated along with an estimate of the number of clams under 3 inches (pre-recruits) and clams over 3 inches (recruits). Pre-recruits sized clams are not considered part of the population available for harvest. Such small clams do not tend to "show" and are not usually part of the catch.
The population is calculated by multiplying the number of clams per square meter and the estimated number of square meters considered viable clam habitat on each beach. Again, this is further separated into the recruit and pre-recruit categories. For each beach, a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is then calculated providing for a 30.0% harvest of all clams over 3 inches (except Kalaloch where the TAC is calculated at 25.4%). This is further modified on all beaches north of the mouth of Grays Harbor that have tribal co-management. Tribal co- management refers to the policy of sharing not only the harvest, but also the management of the razor clam resource with coastal tribes that have fishing rights in their usual and accustomed area (U&A). There are currently two tribes that we co-manage the razor clam resource with; the Quinault Tribe which has fishing rights at Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch beaches and the Hoh Tribe which also has shellfish rights at Kalaloch. After the population is determined, the TAC is calculated and the formula is divided by 50% to determine the non-tribal share. Where more than one tribe is involved, their 50% share is further divided by the number of tribes involved.
A simplified example of how a TAC is calculated is shown below. Let's say the average population density (across all sample transects) is calculated to be 0.42 clams per square meter. The beach has a total of 3,520,000 square meters of viable clam habitat on the 12 miles of beach.
1. 3,520,000 X 0.42 = 1,478,400 total clams
If the population sampling found that 60% of the clams were 3 inches and over in length then;
2. 1,478,400 X 0.60 = 887,040 clams over 3 inches
If it is a beach with no tribal harvest then the TAC is:
3. 887,040 X .30 (preferred harvest rate) = 266,112 clams allowed to be harvested
If it is a beach with tribal harvest than the TAC for non-tribal digging is:
266,112 or (50%) = 133,056 clams can be harvested over the entire season.
We set razor clam openers in such a way to avoid exceeding the TAC. In general, we try to provide openers that provide digging opportunities each month (between October and May), while reserving clams for the months ahead. Obviously weather and surf conditions can cause great variations in the number of clams harvest on any specific day. However, should bad weather create result in fewer clams being harvested – those clams remain a part of the TAC that will be used to set future openers.
Other factors we consider are based on input we receive during public a comment period held before we set the seasons each year. Some folks like digging in the fall and winter (usually night tides), others like spring tides during warmer weather. Some folks want digging days in a row, while other like the every- other day season structure. There are also social-economic concerns like businesses that depend on clam seasons for income and then we have outside factors like marine toxins that may prevent having seasons during certain times of the year. All of this information is compiled and then a recommendation is formulated. We meet with the coastal tribes to get agreement and then present the recommendation to the Director for final approval. Only after the Director has approved the season and adequate Health Department sampling for marine toxins has taken place are we able to announce the season. Unfortunately, all this takes a great deal of time and often results in final season announcements give diggers only a little lead time to make their final plans
Our hope is that through conservative management; clam populations will remain strong, allowing WDFW more flexibility to provide greater harvest opportunities and more economic impact on coastal economies.