Published: January 2013
Author(s): Bruce Kauffman
Fishery Objectives and Preseason Planning
A public meeting was held in late March 2013 for commercial diggers and razor clam buyers at Raymond High School. Major discussion topics covered during the meeting were the season opening date and duration, and the implementation of a fee by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for Right of Entry Agreements (ROE) for the 2013 season.
At the meeting WDFW announced it was continuing with the changes implemented last year 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 (DOH) product recall. In addition, because the Willapa Spits were legally open to sport harvest when Long Beach is open, keeping the fisheries separate was a way to prevent 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 which limit digger success. 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 and often 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 decided 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 expressed interest in 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 prohibits any recreational harvest on the detached spits during commercial openers and allows both fisheries to run concurrently. At the March 2013 industry meeting it was announced the season would open on May 1, 2013 (pending biotoxin results) and would end on Friday June 28, 2013.
DNR continued to require each individual digger to obtain a Right of Entry Agreement (ROE), a process that was first proposed in 2011 and implemented in 2012. Prior to that, only WDFW 4 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 the proprietor of these state-owned tidelands, DNR manages the uses that take place on these lands. To fulfill this role, DNR is required to 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. In 2012 ROEâ€™s were issued at no cost to harvesters. The major change by DNR for the 2013 season was the establishment of a $100 fee for each ROE issued.
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 six 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 2013 to eliminate any uncertainty.