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Fishing highlights – January 2021
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Domoic acid thwarts razor clam seasons and most coastal crab fishing

WDFW, Department of Health monitoring toxin levels

By Jason Wettstein/WDFW

2020 has been a challenging year in many respects, and the story has not been different for our shellfish team working to find creative solutions that allow people to get out and have fun while still keeping them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now with rising domoic acid levels.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife started this fall with extensive dates for razor clam digs across all 58 miles of coastal beaches, an effort to encourage “digging while distancing.” By November, domoic acid — a naturally occurring toxin produced by certain types of marine algae — was hitting our fisheries hard.

Our colleagues at the state Department of Health set maximum safe levels for public consumption of these toxins in order to avoid the serious effects of amnesic shellfish poisoning and we have been exceeding these levels regularly in recent weeks and months, leading to the current closure of razor clam digging on all Washington coastal beaches and most coastal crab fishing as well.

Closures, advisories

Here’s where domoic acid closures stand as of late December:

  • All Washington coastal beaches are closed to razor clam digging.

  • Regular testing of shellfish species found in the area — including oysters, hard-shell clams and mussels — shows those shellfish remain safe to eat. The exceptions are razor clams and Dungeness crabs. Harvesters can find up-to-date information on seasons and shellfish safety information on the Washington Shellfish Safety Map webpage.

  • Closures on sport crab fishing include coastal waters between Point Chehalis and the Queets River in addition to previous closures in effect for Marine Area 1 (Ilwaco) and Marine Area 2 (Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay).

  • Inside the Columbia River (from the outer jetty tips upriver), Marine Area 3 (La Push), and Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay) were able to remain open to crabbing given acceptable test results from DOH.

  • The opening of the state commercial Dungeness crab fishery is delayed until at least Jan. 14 in Washington coastal waters south of Point Chehalis, Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay and the Columbia River.  

  • DOH recommends that sport crabbers who are fishing outside of the closure area remove crab viscera from their catch to avoid any exposure to possible toxins.

Domoic acid levels shut down December razor clamming in Washington. (Glenn Leis)

Looking ahead

While domoic acid levels might remain high for weeks or months, WDFW plans to work with DOH to re-evaluate marine toxin levels in early January and will move forward on scheduling tentative digs as early in 2021 as conditions allow. Charts of current and historic domoic acid levels are available on WDFW’s domoic acid reports webpage.

WDFW is keenly aware of the impact of these closures on clamming and crabbing enthusiasts and coastal communities. We hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and aim to communicate health-related closure decisions taken alongside health experts just as fast and as transparently as we can.

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