Clam harvest slammed by Mother Nature

HOOD CANAL — Mother Nature wasn’t very nice to the clams of north Hood Canal this past winter, causing nearly half of this year’s crop to die off, according to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

The death of the partial harvest took place on three beaches in tribal treaty areas of Quilcene, Dosewallips and Duckabush. Tribal and state managers have not determined what exactly caused the deaths, but they think during a low tide last winter, the clams were exposed to frigid air. Clams are unable to hold themselves closed when exposed to such temperatures and die off as a result.

Because of the situation, this year’s harvest will be cut back by 40 percent, said Randy Hatch, a shellfish biologist for Point No Point Treaty Council. The council was formed in 1974 as a natural resource management organization, serving the Skokomish, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Lower Elwha Klallam tribes.

“The way the harvest structure is set up, we try to harvest one-third (of the) amount to sustain a harvest each year,” Hatch said. “If we tried to harvest that same amount based on last year’s survey, we’d be harvesting two-thirds of total population, but then have not a good harvest in the next year or two.”

It makes more sense to be conservative, he said.

In negotiations with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the tribe agreed to harvest just over 120,000 pounds of clams off the three beaches this year, which carried nearly 246,000 pounds of harvestable clams, based on numbers from the population surveys conducted last fall.

This year’s harvest will be cut by nearly half in order to protect the clam populations and harvesters will probably see the same small numbers again next year.

“We will curtail our harvesting opportunities to preserve the remaining clams,” said David Herrera, Skokomish Tribal Fisheries Manager. “Even though we’re sacrificing a lot, we need these beaches to have harvestable amounts of clams available in the future. The only way to do that is to lower our harvests now.”

The positive aspect of the situation is that disease or pollution didn’t cause the deaths of the clams, Hatch said.

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