Going razor clamming is sort of like going on a scavenger hunt. At least that’s how it seemed at the Washington coast with Seaview resident Andi Day.
“What we’re looking for is a little hole, that is about the size of a dime maybe, like a dimple,” she said.
With a bucket in one hand and a clam gun in the other, Day scanned the vast silver sand beach that stretches 21 miles along the peninsula. When she didn’t see any, she started stomping.
“That causes them to dig down and then they’ll show up above in the sand,” she explained.
Day is one of thousands of people who hauled shovels and buckets to the shore for the first weekend of open razor clam season on the Washington coast.
She brought her 6-year-old son and said her family has been clamming at this beach for four generations.
“I love sharing this with my son, my parents, and my grandmother,” Day said, as her son Devin tossed a freshly dug clam into their bucket. “I’m carrying on that family tradition.”
Each clammer has their own style. Some like to go closer to the water and thump the wet sand with a giant stick as the tide recedes. Others, like Phil Allen, prefer to stomp farther back by the tide pools.
“There he is. Tada — a beautiful clam,” Allen exclaimed as he pulled his clam gun out of a hole.
Like many families on the peninsula, Allen has been clamming since he was a kid.
“We really are blessed here with all kinds of foraging opportunities,” he said. “Look on down the beach, there’s several thousand people here chasing clams.”
“These three are for my wife and I,” Allen added, showing me his catch. “Any evening, that’s dinner.”
The throng of razor clammers is an economic boost to businesses on the peninsula that have suffered from a delay in clamming. The season had been closed until last week because of high levels of a naturally occurring marine toxin called domoic acid.
“Clam-digging supplies, clothing and boots are definitely down over last year,” said Randy Dennis, who owns Dennis Company, a retail variety store in Long Beach. “Clam digging brings people to the Long Beach peninsula for inexpensive family fun and we have missed that this year.”
Clamming also brings in tourists who travel from Seattle or Oregon to spend the day on the coast. The loss of that bump during the winter months was felt throughout the peninsula.
“We used to say that clamming didn’t affect us, but when it went away we noticed it,” said Nancy Gorshe, co-owner of the Depot Restaurant in Seaview. She divides her customer base into three groups: locals, weekenders and clammers.
“You visually see it on the street. All the traffic coming in, it’s nonstop,” Gorshe said. “It’s a hoot to see the beaches full.”
That economic boom in the warmer months is well received after a long winter.
“In winter, if there’s no clams, there’s no work,” said Tina Ward, co-owner of the Sportsmen’s Cannery.
Ward said she had to cut down her seasonal staff during the winter months because she didn’t have enough business for them.
“It impacts motels, grocery stores, us of course, but really the whole area,” she said.
That winter lag has made the weekend crowds all the more welcome. By late Saturday morning, buckets full of clams were already lined up to be processed at the cannery. Ward estimates they’ve been cleaning about 15 clams every five minutes.
“The weather’s been decent and a lot of people are coming out because they haven’t had clams all winter,” Ward said. “It’ll be through the night tonight, I’m sure.”
Washington state requires clammers to purchase a permit and has a catch limit of 15 razor clams per person.
The season usually lasts until late May, but digging dates are announced on a weekly basis. Razor clamming is still closed along the Oregon coast.