“To promote recreational clam digging in Oregon’s coastal waters.”Our agenda has been developed through research and discussion among the membership of the association, and is a dynamic and living document.
The Clam Diggers Association of Oregon has identified the following areas of concern to recreational harvesters: public access, strengthen clam digging regulations, improving clam digging ethics and education, and recreational stock enhancement.
Issue I: Public Access
Background: Compared to our neighboring states, Oregonians benefit from expansive rights to public use of tidelands for recreational shellfish harvesting. However, much of that public land is inaccessible to casual recreational users, such as visiting tourists, that lack water transportation (e.g., boats). Public access to the clam digging areas of Oregon's bays is extremely limited and often dangerous. Clam diggers and visitors to the tidal flats have to climb over and down the riprap to access the more popular tidal areas in some of our bays, while other clam diggers must negotiate the steep sides of cliffs to access the tidal flats below. These bottlenecks focus harvest pressure excessively on the few easily accessible areas, leading to over-harvest and lower catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) for recreational diggers that struggle to work hard for little reward, gaining a sense that clam digging is too difficult and/or frustrating. This discourages prospective diggers from efficiently spreading harvest pressure across other tidal areas, which dampens future interest in recreational shellfish harvesting by lowering catch rates.
Potential Solutions: The Association has identified three key access points that must be made available: 1) the Bayocean Peninsula in Tillamook Bay, 2) the former Fulton Street sewer plant in Coos Bay, and 3) the Umpqua River Estuary area near Reedsport. Additionally, to facilitate safe access to clam harvesting areas, public infrastructure such as concrete stairs, trails, and parking areas must be developed.
To facilitate public access to Tillamook Bay, a public park should be created at the north end of Bayocean Peninsula. Opening of Bayocean Peninsula in Tillamook Bay would relieve excessive harvest pressure on the Garibaldi tidal flats by providing access to the productive clam beds in the tidal areas in the lower portion of west Tillamook Bay. In addition, opening the Bayocean Peninsula will provide a much needed recreational opportunity for the general public.
We appeared before the Tillamook County Commissioners in November 2008 on a fact finding appearance to see what it would take to open the
Construction of a park at the former Fulton Street sewer plant in Coos Bay. There are fewer than 10 public parking spaces along the 6 mile stretch of Cape Arago Highway between the Empire boat ramp and Charleston Visitors Center, while some of the most productive clam beds in Coos Bay parallel the road but lack access. The creation of a public park would improve access for clam diggers, relieve harvest pressure on the Charleston tidal flats and provide much needed recreational opportunity for the public.
The Umpqua River Estuary is the location of the most productive softshell clam beds found in any of Oregon’s Estuaries. Clam digging in the Umpqua River Estuary is extremely limited by private property. Boating access is limited. The boat ramps at Gardiner and Bolon Island are unusable. The boat launch at Reedsport is barely adequate: it is just too small. The boating public needs a launch facility that is usable during all phases of the tidal cycle located in the Gardiner Reedsport area. The launch facility should become part of a greater area park complex to meet the recreational needs of the general public.
Improving public infrastructure for safe access will require the implementation of a surcharge (we recommend two dollars) as a “Clam Stamp” added to the shellfish license fee dedicated to the purchase of property on Oregon’s Bays for the creation of public parks, acquiring easements for public access to Oregon’s Bays and to fund construction of concrete steps, ramps or improved trails to facilitate safe access to tidal areas of our bays. The surcharge fee would end with the completion of the parks, acquisition of easements for public access to Oregon’s Bays and the completion of the construction of concrete steps, ramps or improved trails to facilitate safe access to tidal areas of our bays.
Summary: Several simple steps can lead to a comprehensive improvement in the safe public access to productive clam harvesting areas in all of Oregon's bays. Recycling underutilized public areas (e.g., the Bayocean Peninsula and Fulton Street sewer plant) and renewing others (via infrastructure investments) can transform the climate of recreational shellfish harvesting in Oregon to maximize the public value of the state's shellfish resources.
Issue II: Clam Digging Regulations
Background: The Clatsop Spit area produces over 95% of the razor clams harvested in Oregon. ODFW has promulgated a conservation closure in that area from July 15th to September 30th to protect juvenile clams. The rest of the state is unaffected by the conservation closure. Some Association members that are Clatsop Spit diggers reported a lot of juvenile razor clams this year. With the declining abundance of razor clam south of Tillamook Head, the beach areas with stable populations of razor clams have been subjected to increased digging pressure subjecting juvenile razor clams to excessive exploitation.
ODFW management of “Bay Clams” (cockle, littleneck, butter, and gaper clams) allows 20 clams of which 12 may be gapers, independent and in addition to “Other Clams” (softshell, macoma, purple varnish, and other miscellaneous clams) which allows 36 clams of any combination. The “Other Clams” category has led to some confusion, especially to novice harvesters, that mistake clam species or commit regulatory infractions unknowingly. “Other Clams” must be retained regardless of size or condition, which leads to tiny (1/8”) clams and hopelessly broken juvenile clams being retained as they are uncovered while digging for larger clams up to 6 inches in diameter resulting with the failure of regulation to function as intended.
Potential Solutions: To make clam digging regulations user friendly while protecting the razor clam resource the conservation closure for razor clams should be expanded to be coast wide. Reasoning: To relieve digging pressure on juvenile razor clams by protecting juvenile razor clams on the beaches south of Tillamook Head. Not protecting juvenile razor clams south of Tillamook sends mixed messages to razor clam diggers; especially when they encounter large numbers of juvenile razor clams. Razor clams set successfully infrequently south of Tillamook Head. The conservation closure should be limited to beaches south of Tillamook Head only when the razor clams have set successfully.
Another suggestion to protect juvenile clams would be vary the starting date for the conservation closure of razor clams. The purpose of the CDAO proposed rule is to protect juvenile razor clams from harvest from all of the Beaches associated with Clatsop Spit for a variable number of days ranging from 75 days up to 180 days per year. The proposed rule provides ODFW Staff the flexibility to protect juvenile razor clams during the time they are most vulnerable until the juvenile razor clams attain harvest size based on the findings of the annual razor clam survey. Our recommendation to vary the number of days the conservation closure is in effect is essentially the same as it is today, 75 days, but with the ability to extend the closure up to 180 days if need be.. The difference is the conservation closure should coincide with the growth of the juvenile clams until they reach harvest size. To accomplish this objective the effective date of the conservation closure would have to vary with the size of the clams; therefore the number of day the conservation closure is in effect will vary. The current abundance of juvenile razor clams graphically illustrates the problems associated with a conservation closure in effect for a fixed number of days.
We urge the elimination of the “Other Clams” category for regulating the taking of clam species. Doing so will reduce the confusion associated by lumping unidentified clam species together resulting with fewer violations of clam digging regulations. Additionally, better diagrams, pictures, and explanations should be made so harvesters correctly identify species to aid in following regulations.
Softshell clams are one of the most desirable clam species, but, paradoxically, are the most underutilized clam species found in Oregon's bays.
Purple varnish clams are an invasive clam species that have rapidly colonized Oregon's Bays. They are a hard shelled soft bodied clam that ranges up to 3 inches in size.
Macoma clams represent a number of similar clam species ranging from 1 to 4 inches in size. Softshell clams, purple varnish and macoma clams are a highly prolific species that will easily support an increased bag limit.
The daily bag limit of softshell, macoma, and purple varnish clams should be increased to 48 clams for each species, while maintaining the current regulation requiring the retention of softshell clams regardless of size or condition and requiring a minimum size of 1 1/2 inches for purple varnish clams. All purple varnish clams smaller than one and one half inches in diameter must be reburied in the substrate where they were dug. NOAA Clam Biologist, John Chapman reported densities exceeding 50 clams per square meter while studying purple varnish clams. Obviously, the small juvenile softshell and purple varnish clams are so numerous that it is impossible for clam diggers to honor the retention or possession limit regulations. Increasing the limit to 48 clams will attract clam diggers new to digging the species and increase the awareness of exceptional table quality of softshell, macoma, and purple varnish clams.
The final recommendation for simplifying and making clam harvest regulations user friendly is to eliminate the taking of California softshell clams (range from 0.5”-1”) but require clam diggers to rebury them in the hole from which they were dug because California softshell clams have no value to recreational clam diggers. Removing them from consideration as part of the clam catch will simplify enforcement of the clam digging regulations.
Summary: Simplifying regulations and making them user friendly improves the ability of recreational harvesters to abide by them while promoting resource harvest balance objectives. A majority of Oregon's bays only contain softshell, macoma, and/or purple varnish clams; by increasing the recreational limits, harvesters have an incentive to try something new and draw more enthusiasts to try this great, family friendly outdoor activity.
Issue III: Clam Digging Ethics & Education
Background: ODFW has established a clam digging ethics section in the clam digging pages of the Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations online website. There is a very short section on clam digging ethics in the Sport Fishing Regulations pamphlet. Additionally, the pamphlet advises clam diggers to return undamaged cockles, butter, and littleneck clams to the area from which they were dug.
Potential Solutions: ODFW must establish a thorough and full clam digging ethics section in the Sport Fishing Regulations pamphlet to educate clam diggers without internet access so they may acquire the same information as clam diggers with internet access. Sections on correctly identifying species to aid harvesters is of special concern, since different limits apply to different species. Ethics are vital to the long term viability of the population and public resource.
We recommend allowing clam diggers to rebury undamaged cockles, littleneck and Manila, butter, purple vanish and California softshell clams. The current practice assumes that cockles, butter and littleneck clams can dig themselves into the substrate successfully. Allowing diggers to rebury clams will instill an awareness of clam digging ethics to the members of the clam digging community and comply with the recommended changes to the clam digging regulations. Allowing clam diggers to rebury clams will increase the percentage of the clams that survive.
Summary: Taking care to protect the resource while harvesting eliminates the phantom harvest of wasted shellfish that detract from present and future stocks. Clam harvesting ethics can go a long way to ensure that we have bountiful resources for future generations.
Issue IV: Recreational Stock Enhancement
Background: Washington has established recreational stock enhancement programs for oysters, clams, and geoducks. These enhanced stocks are announced annually and help contribute to higher productivity than natural seeding alone. The geoduck program specifically has been noted for its success at establishing a native species to beaches that had been decimated by sport harvest.
Potential Solutions: We urge the development of a geoduck planting and harvest program in several of Oregon’s bays. Tillamook Bay and Coos Bay are prime candidates. The Clam Diggers Association would gladly cosponsor and assist in the propagation of the program. A geoduck program would generate enormous excitement within the tourism and clam digging community, attract new participants to recreational clam digging and boost the local economy of Coos Bay and Tillamook Bay significantly.
Summary: Collaboration between ODFW, the Clam Diggers Association of Oregon, and other stakeholders in the bay communities (Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, etc.) could lead to a groundbreaking effort that would draw more excitement, interest, and resources to recreational shellfish harvest in Oregon.