A fierce, cold wind flags the hood of Charles Anderson’s windbreaker as he scans the sand just shy of the Pacific surf for the telltale bump of a razor clam. For the Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) tribal member, harvesting razor clams on the ocean beaches near Taholah is something he has done since he was a child. “It helps us pay our bills,” said Anderson during a commercial razor clam dig on Roosevelt Beach. “Many people are unemployed. It’s survival for us. We fish, dig clams and hunt. We have six kids, so every little bit helps.”
Anderson’s family is with him on this cold, but sunny day and his son Christopher also harvests a few clams. Groups of families that have harvested together for generations continue that tradition, lending a hand, a replacement shovel or sharing a snack.
Anderson’s tools are a specially designed steel shovel to harvest razor clams and a lightweight net that hangs off his waist. Historically, tribal members used a stick from the sturdy yew tree to tease out the clam before it could retreat into the sandy depths faster than a person can dig. A woven cedar bark basket would hold the day’s harvest.
The QIN’s Quinault Pride Seafood company is the only business on the Washington coast that commercially cans razor clams. This year, tribal members are earning about $1.50 a pound for razor clams sold to the company. “We ship razor clams all over the United States, but most of the demand for the canned clams is regional,” said Robert Vessey, fish buyer for Quinault Pride Seafood. “The canning process cooks them, so folks eat them right out of the can or use them in spreads or salads,” said Vessey. The company also vacuum-packs whole clams and larger bags of diced clams for chowder.
David James, Jr. has also been digging razor clams for as long as he can remember. “When I wanted school clothes or spending money, my family handed me a razor clam shovel and a bucket,” said James. “These days, it helps pay the power and phone bill and keeps food in the freezer. There must be 50 different ways to cook clams.” James says when he’s digging razor clams to eat, he likes the smaller ones. “They aren’t as chewy,” he said. “When you are digging commercially, though, you go after what they call the ‘mossbacks,’ the big ones.”
“We know of some families that literally are eating razor clams nearly every day from their freezer or pantry,” said Joe Schumacker, marine resources scientist for QIN. “It’s how some folks make ends meet and keep their family fed.”
The QIN and state work together to assess the clam populations on off-reservation beaches and develop harvest limits based on the available percentage of clams. The harvest is shared equally between recreational and tribal diggers on the beaches north of Grays Harbor.