Cause of razor clams’ demise no mystery; it’s overharvest

T

he Kachemak Bay Science Conference held last week in Homer was a valuable opportunity for those who attended to gain perspective in scientific endeavors that effect all of us in a very local way.

Many experts gave presentations on everything from phytoplankton to elodea to marine vertebrates. I attended part of the conference, but was particularly interested in the presentation given regarding East Side Cook Inlet Razor Clam Stock and Fishery Assessment.

Now, before we go any further here with an East Side Cook Inlet Razor Clam discussion, I feel compelled to disclose that my personal opinion, developed over 64 years of living on the Kenai, is that the East Side Razor Clam stocks have been decimated and are now teetering on the brink of extinction because too many people were allowed to harvest too many clams for too long.

Sure, there have been some singular events that can be pointed to that have occurred that have had a negative influence on abundance. A storm a few years ago did some damage, and is proof that the forces of nature are a consideration.

But when you peel back the layers of data and the short term thinking of managers, you will find no mention of the “elephant in the room”; the very real likelihood that the Cook Inlet razor clam was poorly managed for decades by the state of Alaska and, despite warnings over the years from local people who were watching this decline, the Board of Fisheries maintained ridiculously excessive bag limits for 25 years too long. The biologists and scientists who have worked over the years for the state are collectively culpable for not sounding the alarm before the barn was on fire.

The base population of clams was overharvested to such an extent that the density of clams necessary for spawning and future recruitment was reduced to a point of vulnerability. The East Side razor clam fishery has been closed for 2015. This should have occurred years ago. I sincerely hope that it is not “too little too late.” If the fishery is reopened in the future, the bag limits should be dramatically reduced. 

My first trip to Clam Gulch was in 1957. My mom and I let ourselves down over the bluff at Falls Creek on a rope with our buckets and shovels. A wonderful experience for a 7 year old.  Since then, I have been a regular clam digger, and have been alarmed (along with hundreds of other “old timers”) at the steady decline in size and abundance and lack of conservation action by the Board of Fisheries and the state of Alaska.

I am also a regular clam digger at Polly Creek on the West Side of Cook Inlet. Although there is a lag in time, I can see the same thing happening at Polly Creek. Clam size and abundance, over a 50-year cycle of personal sampling, have dramatically declined. Without conservation actions at Polly Creek, it is merely a matter of time before this resource is eliminated by excessive bag limits and overharvest.

In my view, there is no real mystery as to the demise of the razor clam. Or, for that matter, the early run of Kenai kings where too many people have been allowed to harvest too many kings for too long.

Alaskans need to rise to action regarding our resources, and demand better science. If members of the public would stand up for good management action that would provide for maintaining adequate base populations of all species of fish and game, we would have adequate resources for generations to come.

Frank Mullen is a lifelong Alaskan and Cook Inlet fisherman. He served three terms on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. He lives in Homer.

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