OLYMPIA - Clam diggers looking forward to the last razor clam dig of the season should watch for an update on marine toxin conditions on the Washington coast early next week, state shellfish managers said today.
Rising levels of domoic acid, detected through routine testing, could disqualify one or more ocean beaches from a razor-clam dig tentatively scheduled May 7-8, said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Domoic acid, a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae, can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities.
Although rising toxin counts have already closed several Oregon beaches, domoic acid levels in clams tested in recent days on all Washington beaches except Long Beach were well within state health guidelines, Ayres said.
An initial test for clams on one part of Long Beach reached the threshold for closing the beach to digging, and the Washington Department of Health (DOH) ordered another test to confirm those findings.
"The state threshold for marine toxins is conservative by design," Ayres said. "Final decisions about the upcoming opening will be based on a new round of tests this weekend."
Those results will be announced to the news media next Monday (May 2) or Tuesday (May 3), Ayres said. Final decisions about beach openings will also be posted on WDFW's website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/) and on the department's toll-free shellfish hotline (866-880-5431).
People who participated in the razor-clam dig April 23-25 do not have to be concerned about any clams they may have eaten or stored in the freezer, according to Frank Cox, DOH biotoxin coordinator.
"Clams on all five razor-clam beaches were tested immediately prior to that dig," Cox said. "The increase in domoic acid levels in Washington has occurred in just the past day or two, and is not yet a health concern."
Since 1991, when the toxin was first detected on the Pacific coast, outbreaks of domoic acid have prompted the cancellation of three entire razor clam seasons in Washington - the last one in 2002-03. Kalaloch Beach, jointly managed by WDFW and Olympic National Park, was closed for much of the past season due to high toxin levels, but has reopened for several digs this spring.
"Ironically, Kalaloch was the only beach in Washington to show declining levels of domoic acid during the last test," Ayres said.
Ayres said the razor clam opening tentatively scheduled May 7-8 will likely be the last of the 2004-05 season, because most beaches are nearing the end of their harvest quota.
WDFW Director Jeff Koenings noted that WDFW was only able to include Copalis Beach in the proposed May dig because the Quinault Indian Nation gifted 180,000 clams from their share of the harvest to the non-tribal share.
"We really appreciate the Quinault's generosity," Koenings said.
If the final test results are favorable, all five Washington razor clam beaches - Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis and Kalaloch - are tentatively scheduled to open May 7-8 between the hours of midnight and noon.
Diggers must carry a valid 2005-06 fishing license to participate in the opening.