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Beach Access Roads, and Razor Clamming, Closed Due to COVID-19

Access to Pacific Beach via Analyde Gap Road closed due to COVID-19. The beach is just around the corner down a steep incline. All beach access roads in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties were closed March 22 and with it razor clamming. Credit Jamie Garner.

Razor clamming came to a halt in late March 2020 to the great disappointment of many. What, we can’t go razor clamming? It seemed like the perfect antidote to social distancing and being cooped up in the house. The beach, the good salt air, the clams. Just a week before WDFW had said the dig was a go. But then WDFW said nope and cancelled the late March and April digs.

Of course, WDFW also put a halt to all fishing. That had outdoor folk climbing the walls. People were canoeing, motor boating, and paddle boarding. Why couldn’t a fisher throw out a line or go out in a float tube? One explanation was about hazards to WDFW personnel who might be at risk doing regulatory enforcement.

As far as razor clamming, a different explanation was that it wasn’t WDFW precisely, but health authorities in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties with whom WDFW consulted who wanted the digs cancelled; they didn’t want legions of visitors coming to their towns potentially spreading the virus. Indeed, Pacific County ordered its beach access roads closed on March 22. That was the same day Gov. Inslee  required hotels, motels and other hospitality lodgings to close. WDFW had little choice but to follow suit and cancel scheduled digs.

The Seattle Times ran a story about Long Beach and a prevailing attitude of residents:  “Your vacation is not worth our lives. Go home. Stay home. Save lives.”

As of this writing, April 27th, boat ramps are expected to reopen May 5th along with some warm-water fishing, and razor clamming  sometime  thereafter. Here’s hoping there will be some razor clamming in May and maybe even into June. Those are months with favorable morning tides that diggers love.

As Joni Mitchell famously sang, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Razor Clams on Parade, 1912

Razor-clam shell costumes worn by the ELKS fraternal organization during their 1912 parade in Portland, Oregon. Pretty snazzy. Image was used on a postcard.

Razor Clamming for Survival in the 1920s and 1930s

 

Vern and Ella Worthington, 2007, courtesy Chinook Observer

Ella and Vernon Worthington passed away not that long ago. They were both over 100 years old. The frugal dairy farmers managed to save a million dollars and left generous bequests to ocean environmental organizations. They grew up and married on the Long Beach peninsula, home to great razor clam beaches, and their lives were unavoidably involved with razor clams.

Ella recalled how razor clamming was essential for survival in a May 14, 2018 story in the Chinook Observer: “There were no jobs in the 1920s and 1930s,” Ella said. “We worked in the cranberry bogs, dug razor clams, and Vern worked on the oyster beds and I worked in the steam canneries. We didn’t have time to feel sorry because we were poor. We were too busy and having too much fun with our friends.”

Ella moved to the Peninsula from West Virginia when she was five years old, the ninth of 10 children.  She dug “hundreds of clams” before going to school each morning.

Said Kolb [a relative], “Aunt Ella once told me she had dug over two tons of clams in her day. I remember going clamming with her when I was a kid. She always dug in the surf and, man! Was she quick! She’d have her limit before most of us had our first clam!”

Read the full story in the Chinook Observer here.

Gorgeous Clamming March 16th, 2018 at Copalis Beach

Beach near Ocean Shores, 6:30 PM.  Easy digging, gentle surf, good-sized clams, and plenty of happy people.  Photo credit David Berger

This was Friday just before St. Patrick’s Day. The low tide was at 7:00 PM. I hit the beach at 5:30 PM and the sun was still high in the sky because daylight savings time had just started. So, no headlamp needed.  Surf was calm and everybody remembered just why they like razor clamming so much. I was using a shovel. I found one clam right away, I could see its siphon level with sand. I spotted several others, but couldn’t put them in the net despite a substantial effort digging around with my hand.  That was tiring. The clams were darned deep. Then I got dialed in. I had a limit within an hour.

Fish and Wildlife counted nearly 2,000 diggers in the Copalis management area, which includes Ocean Shores and extends up to the Copalis River. Nearly everyone had a limit, and some 28,000 clams were harvested. On Saturday there were about 3,200 diggers, and 47,000 clams harvested.

It’s Not Always Easy

A lot of people can show up on a good clamming tide, as this cartoon captures. And a lot of vehicles! Bob McCausland was the artist. He cartooned at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for decades before retiring to the coast where he continued to capture local foibles with pen and ink.

This dig was at Twin Harbors. That location is somewhat notorious for fickle clams. It’s frustrating not to get clams when you know they are there. “Am I losing my touch?” you might wonder.  “Have I forgotten how to dig?” You  pound the beach with shovel or tube, trying to force a show, but the clams are off partying. Guess that meal of fried clams will have to wait.

Happy razor clamming after WWII

 

Smiling teenagers after a day of razor clamming, circa 1947! Razor clamming has helped define who we are in Washington State in every decade. Notice all the bare feet.

The photo is courtesy of Jaime Johnstone. Her family lived in Centralia at the time. That’s Jaime’s mother on the left, a decade before Jaime was born.

“Clamming was a fun event, as you can tell from the photo of my mom and her friends, all teenagers at the time,” Jaime writes. “I remember going clamming with my family from a very early age (well before I could contribute to the digging!). It was a bonding event, as everyone contributed to the digging in whatever way they could, and we each were invested in every person getting their limit. And somehow, the messy task of cleaning the clams didn’t even seem to be a chore, because everyone chipped in with that too. My mom was a child of the Depression, and clamming served a very practical purpose at times, of putting food on the table. But really, the most important thing was the collective fun with family and friends.