OLYMPIA - A research project designed to help determine optimum harvest rates for razor clams will be the subject of a public meeting scheduled next month by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The public meeting is scheduled Aug. 12 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Ocosta High School Library, 2580 Montesano St., in Westport.
The project got under way in May at the Copalis Beach razor clam reserve, one of three quarter-mile sections of beach set aside for research purposes more than 20 years ago. Marked by signs on orange metal poles, the reserves are off-limits for recreational digging and have been used for a variety of razor-clam research projects.
For this experiment, WDFW is removing 30-40 percent of the mature clams over three inches long from sections of the three reserve areas. By comparing the repopulation rates in the test areas to those in other sections of the reserves, shellfish biologists hope to refine their calculation of natural mortality in razor clams, said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager.
"Natural mortality is one of the factors we take into account when we determine allowable harvest levels on coastal beaches," Ayres said. "After using the same figure in our computer models for a number of years, we decided it was time to take another look."
Last spring, WDFW revised its method of calculating maximum harvest rates after an intensive review of its data on the coastal razor clam fishery. Under the new method, WDFW increased the maximum harvest rate on four coastal beaches to 30 percent of the clams three inches or longer, up from a rate of 25 percent in effect since 1993.
"We considered raising the harvest rate even higher, but ultimately took a more conservative approach because weren't completely confident of the natural mortality rate," Ayres said. "That's one of the reasons why we want to review that estimate."
To remove clams from the test area at Copalis Beach, WDFW enlisted Quinault Indian Nation commercial harvesters, who were allowed to sell the clams they dug to the Quinault fish buyer. Earlier this month, a team of licensed commercial diggers helped WDFW remove clams from the razor clam reserve in Long Beach, and a final dig is planned at the Twin Harbors Beach Reserve in August to complete preparations for the experiment.
All of the digs necessary for the experiment have been closely supervised by WDFW or Quinault staff, who were on site at all times, said Ayres, who entreats other clam diggers stay out of the reserve areas.
"Now more than ever, it's critical that people not dig in the razor clam reserve areas," Ayres said. "This is an ongoing study, and any unauthorized digging could really skew the results."
Ayres noted that the Aug. 12 meeting will focus on the mortality-rate experiment. Issues regarding the fall razor clam season will be addressed in a series of meetings set in September.
"We've had several inquiries about what we're doing on the razor clam reserves," Ayres said. "We scheduled the August meeting to give people a chance to get answers to their questions."