May 24 – The year-long clam fishery closure in East Cook Inlet is expected to remain in place, despite population increases noted in recent beach surveys, Fisheries Department officials said Monday and Alaska hunting.
During the latest survey, officials found surprisingly low numbers of clams, said Mike Booz, Fish and Game’s Lower Cook Inlet Sport Fishing Area Manager.
These lower final counts mean the fishery, which would have opened in June and allowed 30 clams a day around Clam Gulch and Ninilchik, will remain closed.
Even without opening this summer, Booz said the department still plans to monitor clams with a view to possibly opening the fishery in the future. They’re also trying to fully understand what’s going on with the clams after their population took a downward turn that caused the fishery to close in 2015.
Although survey figures show the clams have a viable population right now, there aren’t enough to justify harvesting them, Booz said, which is why officials are giving them a chance to rebuild. any further.
It’s unclear what caused the decline in clam numbers or how long it might last, Booz said. And clams are not the only ones – several fish stocks have also undergone major changes in the central south.
Booz said he had hoped that by opening the fishery the public would have a chance to see how the clams have not yet fully recovered and, armed with that knowledge, would be able to contribute more to future decisions.
“It feels like we’re the only ones who really know, in this situation, because we’re the ones sampling,” he said.
The clam population may be better, but the clams are smaller these days. An average knife in Ninilchik stretched 4 or 5 inches before the mid-2000s, whereas today the average is only 2 1/2 inches.
“We make these decisions with a heavy heart but pragmatically this should be shut down. And we take full responsibility for that,” Booz said. “We would like it to get to a point where it can reopen and people have the ability to get out and onto those beaches and dig a few clams for themselves.”
For Alaskans who were excited to go clam fishing, this summer doesn’t have to be a total meltdown. Booz encourages clam lovers to make the less accessible but likely more fruitful trip to West Cook Inlet.