Ninilchik area beaches to open for limited clamming for first time in years
NINILCHIK, Alaska (KTUU) - For the first time in nine years, personal use clamming will be allowed on some beaches along the Cook Inlet’s eastern shoreline — but only for a few days.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Tuesday that sport and personal use razor clam fisheries will open for a four-day period from July 1 to July 4.
Clammers interested in getting their haul can harvest up to 15 clams per day, according to Mike Booz, Lower Cook Inlet Sport Fish Area Manager for the department.
″I think it’s going to be really popular,” Booz said. “I’m happy that people will have a chance to go dig some clams and see, you know, that there are good numbers of clams on the beach.”
The harvest area is limited to shoreline mostly south of Ninilchik. The department outlined an area starting three miles north of the mouth of the Ninilchik River — near Lemans Point — all the way down to the Homer Spit, although Booz said most clamming opportunities exist closer to the Ninilchik area.
The last time any beaches on the eastern shores of Cook Inlet were open to personal use clamming was 2014.
Since then, Booze said no personal use or sport clamming has been allowed for a variety of factors as clam populations have plummeted.
Booz said the mortality rates of adult razor clams have been between 60% to 80%, and the juvenile populations have been hit particularly hard.
″Clam’s numbers really don’t have an ability to really rebuild right now, the historical numbers just based on these really high natural mortality rates that we’ve been seeing,” he said. “We suspect that it has a little bit to do just kind of with the fluctuating conditions of the habitat for these clams, you know, they live in a sandy intertidal that’s constantly exposed to high surf that moves around.
“So if the sand is moving, it’s likely the razor clams are getting shifted around and the habitat’s just not as stable as it once was.”
The Ninilchik area was also the victim of a strong winter storm in Nov. 2010 that played a role in decimating the clam populations.
The department attributed a recent rise in adult razor clam populations to the much-anticipated reopening of clam harvesting for personal use — Fish and Game cited a count of over 322,000 adult clams taken recently, which it says is 35% above the abundance threshold to open the limited fishery in the Ninilchik area.
Fish and Game established in March 2022 a count to be at or better than 50% of the historical average in population counts, and that the expected harvest of residents is not to exceed more than 10% of the total adult clam population. Booz said it will be the only opportunity for the foreseeable future, noting that Fish and Game does not plan to reopen the fishery in 2024 or 2025.
Booz said tidal waters fluctuate in strength every two weeks, making the first week of July a prime time to hit the beaches with minimal water and tides.
With the Fourth of July holiday weekend combined with the long absence of open clam fisheries, Booz said Fish and Game expects a crowd — Booz predicted somewhere in the range of 5,000 to 10,000 people showing up.
“I would say the number of diggers that we’re expecting is kind of the ‘X’ unknown factor,” Booz said. “But there’s a lot of people here on the Kenai Peninsula and Alaska overall that have quite a connection and long history with this fishery and I’m sure, you know, for those that can make it are probably going to be here.”
While eastern beaches of Cook Inlet are limited in razor clamming, Booz said western shoreline clamming is open with a 10-gallon limit.
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