The Cook Inlet razor clam harvest should be good this year according to fishery biologists.
Clarion file photo by M. Scott M
As the year progresses and daylight eats deeper into morning and night, one of the first activities to announce spring’s arrival is seeding the minds of hungry Alaskans.
Soon clam diggers will be chasing the tide out to sea and plunging their shovels and arms into cold sand, scrambling after swift razor clams.
Spot checks conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game last summer suggest a healthy population of razor clams lurks beneath the beaches that stretch from Kasilof to Ninilchik.
In checking clam sizes along a two and a half-mile stretch of beach in Ninilchik and a four-mile stretch at Clam Gulch, Fish and Game found a wide range of clam sizes, said Nicky Szarzi, Lower Cook Inlet area manager for the sport fish division of Fish and Game.
Although Szarzi said she could not give an estimate of the overall razor clam population from Kasilof to Ninilchik using the samples, she said that in the areas sampled populations appeared to be generally strong.
Szarzi, however, noted the one-mile stretch of beach south of the Clam Gulch access road is an exception.
“We had a harder time finding clams (there) than we usually do,” she said.
Approximately 90 percent of the razor clams found in the one-mile stretch were only three inches long, she said.
Razor clams typically grow up to seven or eight inches.
However, Szarzi is not working up a sweat over the small clam sizes at Clam Gulch.
“It’s the only place we checked where we didn’t find many adult-sized clams,” she said.
The population of larger clams is likely to rebound as the small clams found at the beach mature, she said. And it’s unlikely that overharvesting is to blame, she said.
So why might the adult population along that stretch of beach dwindle?
“There could have been a big natural mortality event where a lot of the older clams died in that area,” she said.
The larger clams could have been killed due to a combination of natural events such as a storm and cold weather or may simply have died of old age, she said.
Clams typically live for eight to nine years and rarely more than 13 years. Szarzi estimates the three-inch clams are probably three to four years old.
Like last year, this year’s harvest limit will be 60 clams per day. Clam diggers must harvest the first 60 clams encountered and cannot leave clams they have already dug in favor of larger clams.
“The reason you have to take all of the first clams you encounter is because they are so delicate,” Szarzi said. “They’re a thin-shelled clam.”
Although not as protective as the thicker shells found on other clams, the razor clam’s sleek, thin shell allows it to move quickly up and down in the sand to escape predators.
Clam diggers are not allowed to possess more than two day’s worth of clams 120 at once.
Harvests for the Kasilof to Ninilchik stretch of beach peaked at 1.27 million in 1994 and reached a low of 520,000 in 2004.
Harvest numbers, however, are not only influenced by the number of clams available, but also by the number of days people spend digging, Szarzi said.
The season for digging razor clams is open year round.
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