With toxin threat gone, razor clam digs send hundreds to Washington's coast

Hundreds of people continue to flock to Mocrocks beach despite the cold wind and rain to take part in a Washington tradition: digging for razor clams

After months of restrictions for recreational digs, toxins associated with an algae bloom off the coast of Washington have subsided in razor clams. That means, regardless of weather conditions, digs draw plenty of people.

"Goofy people we are in the cold and rain," said Bertha Cavenah. "We come out and dig for razor clams so we can go home and make great clam chowder."

Cavenah is a regular, though she had her granddaughter in tow to experience her first dig.  

This year, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife report a robust clam population.

Bryce Blumenthal, a coastal shellfish biologist, said that we’ve seen great ocean conditions for razor clams.

Those conditions are also great for Pseudo-nitzschia – a type of naturally occurring algae that can load up shellfish with domoic acid. The acid doesn’t harm the shellfish, but it can lead to serious consequences for humans that eat them before the shellfish naturally filter the toxins out.

This year’s bloom happened in October, which led to closures of all Washington coast beaches until late-January. Two of the four beaches, Twin Harbors and Long Beach, remain closed.

It’s not the first, or the last, closure for Washington beaches. In fact, WDFW has had entire razor clam seasons canceled, including the 1991-92, 1997-98 and 2002-03 seasons.

"It’s just an unfortunate circumstance, but we have to keep people safe by closing beaches," said Blumenthal.

Last week, shortly after Mocrocks Beach opened, a tidal series hit that allowed for digging during the daylight hours – a rarity. Instead of donning headlamps, die-hard clam diggers donned waders this week at approved times trying to catch a full "limit" of 12 razor clams.

"I try to come out at least once, maybe twice a year," said David Geiss, who made the drive with his parents from Seattle. "Unfortunately, a seagull just ate one! That’s how our start is going."

Geiss, like others, didn’t seem to mind a slow start. He told FOX 13 that after not being able to dig for a few months, he was happy to be out regardless of the conditions.

"Razor clams are super sweet, super good," he said. "Also, just being outdoors – it’s fun."

This current tidal series wraps up at Copalis beach Wednesday night, but tentative digs at both Mocrocks and Copalis beaches are likely on March 17-22 during evening low tides and March 23-26 during morning low tides.

It’s unclear if Long Beach and Twin Harbors will re-open this season, however, WDFW said that current toxin levels are nearing health guidelines.