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