The harvest of knives for sporting and personal use will open this summer on the east side of Cook Inlet for the first time since 2015.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced a limited opening for razors July 1-4 on the beaches on the east side of Cook Inlet from three miles north of Ninilchik south to the tip of Homer Spit.
“I’m excited for everyone to have the opportunity to clam,” said Mike Booz, lower Cook Inlet management biologist for Fish and Game. “Unlike some other sport fisheries that we have here, there’s no real catch and release opportunity for razor clams. So people haven’t really had an opportunity to be on the beach just to dig and see what these clams are like after this one. long period of closure.
Razor populations on the east side have struggled for the past decade. A management plan adopted by the Alaska Fisheries Board in 2022 allows limited harvest opportunity when adult clam abundance reaches or exceeds 50% of historical mean abundance.
Fish and Game says that clam populations in Clam Gulch do not reach that threshold this year. Populations in the Ninilchik area do. But even though the abundance of adult clams has improved around Ninilchik, Fish and Game says that the abundance of juveniles in 2023 is the lowest since 2013. Which means there probably won’t be an opening next year.
“This is probably the way the fishery goes, we have a small catch opportunity in a year and then it could be closed again for a couple of years and the numbers build up and we have another small fishing opportunity. Boaz said.
A decade ago, clamming was a major tourist draw for Ninilchik and Clam Gulch. Debbie Cary has owned Inlet View Lodge in Ninilchik for over 30 years and she remembers when the long summer clamming season and high harvest limits meant a steady drive in business. But she’s not thrilled with this year’s condensed opening, especially if it delays the recovery of the clam population.
“I would like to see it as a full season because that way we would be ready, prepared and staffed for it,” Cary said. “I think two of the three restaurants in town are usually closed on two of the days that they’re scheduled to open, so now we’re trying to dig around and figure out, ‘OK, are we open? Will be worth? Will people show up? And so without that predictability, that aspect is going to be very difficult for us.”
With no clams, Ninilchik has found other ways to attract visitors to the community. One such event is a horse race on the beach, part of the Ninilchik Rodeo. That was scheduled for July 2 on a stretch of beach that will now be open to clamming. Kenai Peninsula Fair Coordinator Lara McGinnis says they hope to work with Alaska State Parks to try to move the race, rather than cancel it.
“When something disappears, different events come in and take its place. So the clamming died and Ninilchik had to come up with other creative ways to get people there because we are a tourism driven community. So we’re going to have to figure out how to make it all work together now,” McGinnis said.
Greg Ecelewski is president of the Ninilchik Traditional Council and the Ninilchik Native Association and a member of the Southcentral Regional Advisory Council of the Federal Subsistence Board. He wants the clams to stay in peace until the population is larger.
“All of our members so far are upset with the opening. We feel it’s too early,” Ecelewski said. “The clams have not recovered. The impact is going to be tremendous on the beaches, believe it or not. We’re going to have just about everyone in Anchorage here to dig in that 4th of July weekend. And I think if you start multiplying the numbers and the families, it will really impact them.”
Boaz says the opening is designed to keep the harvest within the management plan’s goal of no more than 10 percent of adult abundance on any given beach. Beyond only being open for four days, the bag and possession limit is 15 clams per person, per day, which means you can’t go back for more clams if you still have the previous day’s harvest. And you must collect the first 15 excavated clams, regardless of size.
“The process of digging them up tends to have some damage or breaks in the shell and those clams generally don’t survive,” Booz said. “So yeah, everyone should keep all the clams they dig up.”
Booz says Fish and Game will monitor fishing at major beach access sites at Ninilchik, Deep Creek and Whiskey Gulch to count how many people are participating and how many clams are caught. If it looks like the harvest will pass the 10 percent threshold, the department is prepared to shut it down early.
“If we see an ungodly number of people and on the first day and the crop looks like it’s going to exceed that 10 percent crop rate, then yes, we have our emergency order authority to shut it down again, if necessary.” Boaz said. saying.
More information about the opening is available at adfg.alaska.gov.