Category: Commercial Fishing / Shellfishing
Published: January 2013
Author(s): Bruce E. Kauffman
Fishery Objectives and Preseason Planning
A public meeting was held in mid April 2012 for commercial diggers and razor clam buyers at Raymond High School. The major discussion topic was when to schedule the 2012 fishery and the duration of the season.
At the meeting WDFW announced changes designed to stabilize the opening date of the fishery and season length. In past years, three factors largely determined the start date of the commercial razor clam fishery: the end of the recreational razor clam season, biotoxin levels, and tides. By practice, the commercial fishery opened only after the end of the recreational fishery. WDFW believed that by separating the two fisheries it would make it more difficult for sport diggers to illegally dig, possess or sell commercial quantities of clams, and it also simplifies recovering clams in the event of a Washington Department of Health (WDOH) product recall. In addition, because the Willapa Spits are legally open to sport harvest when Long Beach is open, keeping the fisheries separate prevents a potential influx of sport harvesters on the spits while a commercial fishery is underway.
In the past few years the recreational razor clam seasons have been extended well into May due to lower than expected effort/catch levels. This lower catch is not due to a lack of clams but due to poor weather conditions during scheduled recreational digs. As a result the commercial season opener has varied from year to year to accommodate the later recreational digs and the fishery itself has been closed in-season to digging when recreational harvest occurs. The constantly shifting opening date and in-season closures has resulted in much uncertainty for processors and harvesters alike. WDFW was often able to give a general time frame on when the season could open but in practice the official notice to participants was often only a few days from the actual opener.
In order to create a stable and orderly commercial fishery WDFW has determined that beginning in 2012 the commercial fishery will open for eight weeks on May 1 of each year regardless of the status of the recreational fishery. May 1 is a compromise date as some diggers want to begin in mid-April when clam condition is excellent and some diggers wanted a later start in mid-May when the weather is generally better. The processors generally supported a May 1 start. To avoid any conflicts between the two fisheries WDFW has removed the detached spits from the definition of Razor Clam Area 1 (Long Beach) and given it its own separate area, Razor Clam Area 2. (See: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=220-56-360.) This will prohibit any recreational harvest on the detached spits during commercial openers and will allow both fisheries to run concurrently.
Two other major changes occurred in the 2012 fishery. The first was a $105 administrative fee increase in the WDFW commercial razor clam license which raised the license cost from $130 to $235 for residents. The last time the license fee was raised was 18 years ago in 1994 when it went from $50 to $105. The second change was the implementation by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) of an individual digger Right of Entry Agreement (ROE). In previous years WDFW was required to obtain an Aquatic Lands ROE from DNR to conduct the commercial fishery at the Willapa spits, which are state-owned aquatic lands. As 4 the proprietor of these state-owned tidelands, DNR manages the uses that take place on these lands. To fulfill this role, DNR must consider the potential long-term impacts of activities, authorize access, and seek compensation for use of the publicâ€™s natural resources, especially when used for commercial purposes. Beginning this year, DNR is requiring a right of entry for individual harvesters to ensure that best management practices (BMPs) are applied at the site. These practices help harvesters protect critical habitat for other species, such as the western snowy plover. Rights of entry for the 2012 season were issued at no cost to harvesters.
Regulations for the commercial razor clam fishery allow digging only on â€�"detachedâ€ (i.e. islands) spits. In recent years, shifting sand has filled in a channel of water that had separated the spits from the north end of Leadbetter Point. At low tide the southernmost spit and the northern end of Leadbetter Point essentially became continuous, and could be easily crossed. For the last five seasons boundary poles have been installed at the north end of Leadbetter Point to provide a clear delineation between it and the spits. Boundary posts were installed again in 2012 to eliminate any uncertainty.