East Cook Inlet clamming to remain closed again this summer as population still lags

The yearslong closure of the East Cook Inlet clam fishery is set to remain in place, despite increasing population numbers noted during recent beach surveys, Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials said Monday.

During the final bit of surveying, officials found an unexpectedly low number of clams, said Mike Booz, Fish and Game’s Lower Cook Inlet sport fish area manager.

Those final lower tallies mean the fishery, which would have opened in June and allowed for 30 clams a day around Clam Gulch and Ninilchik, will stay closed.

Even without an opening this summer, Booz said the department still plans on monitoring the clams in support of perhaps opening the fishery in the future. They are also trying to fully understand what’s going on with the clams after their population took a downward turn that prompted a closure of the fishery in 2015.

While the survey numbers show the clams have a viable population right now, there aren’t enough of them to justify harvesting them, Booz said, which is why officials are giving them a chance to further rebuild.

It’s not clear what caused clam numbers to decline or how long it might last, Booz said. And the clams are not alone — several fish stocks have gone through major changes in Southcentral too.

🦪 The razor clam abundance surveys are complete! 📅 After 2️⃣ months and thousands of clams surveyed at Ninilchik and...

Posted by ADF&G - Sport Fishing Southcentral Alaska on Monday, May 23, 2022

Booz said he had hoped that by opening the fishery, the public would have a chance to see how the clams have not yet fully recovered, and, armed with that knowledge, be able to give more input on future decisions.

“It feels like we’re the only ones that really know, in this situation, because we’re the ones sampling,” he said.

The clam population numbers may be better, but the clams are smaller these days. An average razor clam at Ninilchik would stretch some 4 or 5 inches back before the mid-2000s, while today the average is only 2 1/2 inches.

“We make these decisions with a heavy heart but in a pragmatic way, it should be closed. And we accept full responsibility for that,” Booz said. “We would like it to get to a point where it can open again and people would have an opportunity to get out and on these beaches and dig a few clams for themselves.”

For Alaskans who were excited about going clamming, this summer doesn’t have to be a total bust. Booz encourages clam enthusiasts to make the less accessible but likely more fruitful journey to West Cook Inlet.

Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is a general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oregon and spent the summer of 2019 as a reporting intern on the general assignment desk of The Washington Post. Contact her at mkrakow@adn.com.