Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 8:25 PM on Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Low tides draw clams, diggers

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Taking a brief break from clamdigging in Ninilchik on Tuesday are Zac Ellis, left, and Allen Dodd. The two men, accompanied by canine camdigging enthusiast Titus, work at Afishunt Charters in Ninilchik.

"They're everywhere," John Marc shouted to a group of clam-digging friends from Eagle River.

And so they were — dimples in the sand indicating razor clams were just below the surface. Using a clam gun, a metal tube with a handle at the end, and with the lightning-fast clam-retrieval skills of Robin Standley, also of Eagle River, Marc was hard at work filling a bucket.

The abundance of clams was a relief to the crowd of shovel- and bucket-toting clamming enthusiasts making their way across mud to access clam beds uncovered by Tuesday morning's low tide.

In November, during a strong Cook Inlet storm, thousands of razor clams washed up along a 12-mile stretch of Ninilchik beach, causing concern about the future of clams in the area.

"I almost didn't come because of the articles," said Lisa Dorau of Anchorage, referring to news coverage of the event.

In spite of what she'd read, however, Dorau was on the beach Tuesday and, like those around her, filling her bucket with clams.

In April, the Alaska Division of Sport Fish surveyed a one-mile section of the beach and found an increase of more than 600,000 clams in the 3.14-inch size category since the last survey conducted in 2005. A survey of the northern portion of Ninilchik beach was scheduled during this week's low tides. Results from the survey will be used to determine if changes to bag limits are needed.

The total clam population estimated for the Ninilchik and Clam Gulch beaches ranges from 5-13.6 million clams, according to information provided by the Division of Sport Fish.

A large spawning event in 2008 produced a large number of young razor clams along Ninilchik beaches. As clam diggers found out Tuesday, these 3-year-olds dominate the catch, making it difficult to find larger clams.


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Douglas Freeman of Seattle, left, Dan Spurgeon of Charlotte, N.C., and Robert Kenlon of Bremerton, Wash., pose for a picture with the razor clams they dug Tuesday morning in front of Ninilchik. They were eager for their wives to know they were hard at work and not just playing around.

"Although it may be frustrating to a digger, the new crop of razor clams is a sign that the population is healthy and reproducing successfully," the division said in a recent press release. "Diggers seeking larger size clams should try Clam Gulch beaches or beaches south of Deep Creek."

For seasoned clam digger Melinda Briggs of Clam Gulch, Ninilchik was the place to be on Tuesday, however.

"This is one of my highlights," said Briggs, holding up one of the smaller clams. Besides looking forward to eating her catch, Briggs said digging was good exercise.

Oneida Freeman, of Sterling, found out just how good the exercise was when she, her daughter, Amalia, 2, and nephew, Nolan, 4, had difficultly maneuvering through mud separating the gravel beach from the sand bar. A stranger came to her rescue, carrying Nolan across the muddy stretch while Freeman dug her shoes out of the mud and then got herself and Amalia to the sand.

Meeting up with her husband, Joseph, the mud was quickly forgotten as the family worked to fill their bucket. Asked who would do the cleaning, a time-consuming task, Joseph said it would be his mother, Bonnie Pierce of Kenai, the "queen of clam cleaning."

Harvesting razor clams isn't just an activity that appeals to Alaskans. Douglas Forman of Seattle, Wash., his son-in-law Robert Kenlon of Bremerton, Wash., and Kenlon's son-in-law Dan Spurgeon of Charlotte, N.C., were up to their elbows in mud just like everyone around them Tuesday. The men also were eager to pose for a picture, wanting to prove to their wives back home that they were doing more than just having fun.

All razor clams dug must be retained regardless of size. The current bag limit from the Kenai River south to the tip of the Homer Spit is 60 per person, 120 in possession.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.