Kenai Peninsula razor clamming ban expected to be extended into 2016

Southcentral clammers will need to keep their shovels and clam guns in storage another year.

The collapse of razor clam population across Kenai Peninsula beaches that led to a summer-long ban on clamming along eastside beaches should be extended to next year, said Carol Kerkvliet, a Homer-based biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The ban, announced in February, followed surveys that found clam populations on popular Kenai Peninsula beaches were more than 80 percent lower than average.

Additional surveys this summer indicated not much had changed, even with the popular Southcentral fishery shuttered.

"We found that the abundance of mature-size razor clams was still below the historic averages on all five of the beaches that we've historically monitored," Kerkvliet said. "And on Ninilchik South Beach, mortality was high. Since there was no harvest mortality, it suggests some environmental cause.

"Juvenile-size claims are still at historic low levels, lower than ever. If there was good spawning success, we'd expect those levels to be higher."

The exact cause continues to mystify scientists.


Fewer clammers

Razor clams' lifespans can stretch to at least 18 years, and some don't become sexually mature until their seventh growing season. Fertilization occurs by chance, with eggs and sperm discharged into sand and swirling sea water, but the number of eggs a single female clam can produce is mind boggling – up to 118 million, according to Fish and Game. Embryos settle into the sand and begin growing.

The razor clams' long, narrow shells can reach 7 inches in length and should be at least 3.14 inches long to be what are known as exploitable clams.

For decades, recreational clamming has been popular along 50 miles of Cook Inlet beaches between Kasilof and the Anchor River. But a declining clam population has meant a dwindling number of clam diggers, too.

1.3 million clams

The peak year was 1994, when Fish and Game estimated the harvest at 1.3 million clams captured over 48,000 digger days (a clam-digger spending at least part of a day on the beach). By 2013, the harvest was down to 174,000 clams over 24,000 digger days.

The average between 1977 and 2009 was 32,000 digger days, with an average harvest of about 800,000 razor clams. Clammers' daily bag limit was cut from 60 to 25 per person in 2013.

A huge storm that slammed Kenai Peninsula beaches late in 2010 left tens of thousands of clams dead, and may have contributed to the decline.

"A lot of big ones were lost," avid clammer Rob Moore said at the time. "There were a lot of big dead ones out there. It was disheartening to see. All the shells I saw were big, palm and finger size, the large ones."

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Mike Campbell

Mike Campbell was a longtime editor for Alaska Dispatch News, and before that, the Anchorage Daily News.