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East side beaches will remain closed to clamming for now

Aging a clam by the stripes on its shell is a bit like aging a tree by its rings.
Sabine Poux
Technicians surveyed the beaches at Clam Gulch and Nilnilchik this spring, hoping to find abundant enough populations of razor clams to open the beaches back up to clammers.

The beaches in Clam Gulch and Ninilchik won’t open to clammers this summer after all.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said it will keep the beaches closed for the eighth year in a row, due to a continued grim outlook for the razor clams on the east side of Cook Inlet.

“The growth was really poor on both beaches. And the survivability of the adult clams was really low," said Mike Booz, area manager for the sportfish division of Fish and Game.

His department has closed the beaches to clamming since 2015 due to low razor clam counts there. The population crashed about a decade ago and has been slow to bounce back.

This year, armed with a new management plan, biologists were hopeful there might finally be enough clams to get a fishery going. And they held out hope when they began surveying the beachesin April, looking for signs populations were rebounding and clams were surviving into adulthood.

But this May, when they looked at the far ends of the beaches, they were disappointed.

“With both of those surveys, the abundance really dropped, more than what we were expecting it to," Booz said. "It didn’t make it to 50 percent of the historical average abundance.”

That was the threshold set in the management plan for a reopening.

Booz said not only did they find a high rate of natural mortality for clams, but there was also low growth and low recruitment — or, the addition of new clams to the beaches.

“There’s good numbers of juvenile clams at Ninilchik and Clam Gulch," he said. "It’s just whether or not they’re going to survive and grow to a size where they recruit to adult size that would support the fishery next year.”

As for next year, Booz said the outlook is borderline. But the department will still be back out on the beach next March and April anyway to conduct surveys.

“So I have a touch of optimism for next year," he said. "But not holding my breath.”

For now, clammers will have to stick to the west side of the inlet, where the population is healthier.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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