TAHOLAH (November. 9, 2004) – A five-year cooperative by the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will improve estimates of natural razor clam mortality and may lead to higher harvest limits.
Razor clams play a small, but important role in the QIN economy. The Nation is the only Washington tribe that has a commercial razor clam enterprise. Culturally, razor clams have been a part of tribal diets and ceremonies for thousands of years.
“The co-managers have been using the same information to predict clam mortality for a couple of decades, and it hasn’t made use of our much-improved system for assessing clam populations,” said Joe Schumacker, marine shellfish biologist for QIN. “The old mortality method was based on a way better suited for estimating fish populations. It was a decent method, but clams do not behave like fish and we have a better way of assessing those populations now,” said Schumacker.
Today, the tribes and state use a hydraulic method to count clams in the summer and the results are used to set harvest limits. Water is pumped through a hose in the sand, which forces all the clams in the sample area to the surface. All of the clams are counted, then returned after their size and population density is recorded.
A question the mortality study could answer is the rate at which clam populations die off and at what size they do so. How populations fare after harvest will be compared to the part of a control beach that has never been harvested. “We’ll resample for the next four years in the same manner and in the same sites in September,” said Schumacker. “We may see a big die off each year, which might mean we’re in a ‘use them or lose them’ situation with adult clams. But we aren’t making any assumptions. It will all be new and useful information. It will allow us to model mortality more effectively and responsibly.”
The five-year study covers the life cycle of a razor clam. QIN and WDFW are studying Copalis Beach which they co-manage. WDFW is sampling two other beaches further south which will increase confidence in the study. “We share the information we’re gathering with WDFW and vice-versa and that will help us look at the bigger picture of coastal populations,” said Schumacker.
For more information contact: Bruce Jones, natural resources director, Quinault Indian Nation, (360) 276-8211; Joe Schumacker, marine shellfish biologist, Quinault Indian Nation, (36) 276-8215, ext. 327; Ed Johnstone, fisheries policy, Quinault Indian Nation, (360) 276-8211; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501, ext. 22.