Clam diggers on the Kenai Peninsula will have to keep in mind a new set of rules for harvesting razor clams. For the first time in a decade, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is reducing the bag limit for razor clams from 60 per day all the way down to 25.
The new rules go into effect this week and will be in place for the rest of the year. For clam diggers on all beaches between Kenai and Homer, that means drastically reduced bag and possession limits.
The new 25 clam-per-day bag limit is accompanied by a possession limit of 25, meaning clam diggers may only have a maximum of 25 unpreserved razor clams in their possession at any time. That’s way down from the normal bag limit of 60 clams per person per day and possession limit of 120 clams.
So why such a dramatic reduction?
"It's a conservation measure because of the lower abundance ... that we've seen on the Ninilchik beaches," says Fish and Game Biologist Carol Kirkvliet, who works out of the Homer office.
Kirkvliet says the new rules will apply to all beaches between Kenai and Homer, although most of the reduction in razor clam population has been noticed around Ninilchik, where clamming is very popular. She says the hope is to spread the clam harvest around.
In a news release Monday announcing the new rules, Fish and Game officials noted the steep drop-off in the razor clam population over the last couple of years, from approximately 1.5 million clams in 2011 to about 79,000 clams in 2013. The 2013 numbers are the lowest on record for the Ninilchik Beach based on surveys conducted since 1990. Fish and Game says the cause of the decline is unknown but is thought to be due to poor spawning and/or settling success.
The spawning process for razor clams is interesting and unusual, says Alaska Pacific University Professor Brad Hughes, who has been working with Fish and Game to study the clams for the last three years.
Hughes says that for razor clams to have success, the male and female must be located relatively close to one another. He says environmental conditions such as tides and water temperature also play a role in the spawning process for razor clams but scientists are just now getting to know more about their overall life cycle.
The last time the bag and possession limits for razor clams were lowered was between 2000 and 2003, when a limit of 45 clams per day was set. Until now, that was the only time the limits have been lowered in more than 50 years.
Kirkvliet says it’s possible – even likely – that the new limits will extend beyond 2013.
"I would anticipate that, unless future data on abundance indicates otherwise, that this limit will go into the next year, as well," she said.
Kirkvliet says that if the Fish and Game team sees greater spawning success among smaller clams at Ninilchik next year, the bag and possession limits could be raised at that time.