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Thursday, February 19, 2004 - Page updated at 01:39 P.M.

Notebook: Biologists warn diggers to be aware of toxins

By Mark Yuasa
Seattle Times staff reporter

Winners of the Discovery Bay derby the weekend of Feb. 14-15, from left to right: Patrick Allen with a 20-pounder for second place; Brad Alexander who took first place with a fish of 20 pounds, 4 ounces; and James Southard, whose 17-pound, 7-ounce fish was good for third.
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While thousands of people are flocking to coastal beaches for this week's razor clam dig, many are unaware of a marine toxin that is leading to widespread closures.

Until 1991, few clam diggers on the Washington coast had ever heard of domoic acid, a marine toxin that can cause serious illness or even death.

Now, toxin levels are as critical to planning razor clam digs as the tides, requiring constant testing and occasional beach closures.

Many who seek out clams in fall, winter and spring have questions about causes, how to protect public health and what scientists are doing to find out the problem.

An article in state Fish and Wildlife's Science Magazine, an on-line journal at, reveals findings of marine scientists from several state and federal agencies, examining the effect domoic acid has had on razor clam fishery, coastal economies and human health. It also discusses new ongoing efforts by state Fish and Wildlife, and its research partners to monitor toxic outbreaks and find their cause.

"Although no one in Washington has died, the health risks are still very real," said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager. "In addition, beach closures resulting from high toxin levels have taken a heavy toll on coastal recreation and on the economic vitality of coastal communities."

Ayres noted that the season long razor clam closure in 2002-03 — the last time domoic acid shut down an entire year's dig — affected tens of thousands of diggers and cost coastal communities about $12 million in tourism revenue.

"Fortunately, the toxin-related closures we've seen this season have been isolated to one or two beaches, and have been fairly brief," Ayres said. "But they are a reminder that domoic acid is an ongoing problem that everyone who digs razor clams in this state needs to take seriously."

Digging at Twin Harbors and Long Beach is open today through Saturday, from noon to 11:59 p.m. each day.

Kalaloch Beach won't be open because of high levels of domoic acid. Copalis and Mocrocks are also closed, because the recreational quota was reached this season.
Low tides: Today, minus-0.4 feet at 6:01 p.m.; Friday, minus-0.3 feet at 6:43 p.m.; and Saturday, 0.0 feet at 7:22 p.m.

Top spots of week

1. Fly-Fishing Show in Bellevue: The Fly Fishing Show is tomorrow through Sunday at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, and offers seminars, demonstrations, displays, latest gear and products, along with information on lodges and fly shops. Hours: Tomorrow, 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Cost is $12 adults, $2 for children younger than 12. Details: 800-420-7582 or

2. Chinook in open marine areas: "The tides are starting to shape up for fishing, but baitfish (herring and candlefish) seem to be in short supply in the San Juan Islands, although I've heard that the fish caught are nice in size with some topping 20 pounds," said Larry Carpenter, owner of Master Marine in Mount Vernon. "There is a huge bio-mass of herring in Saratoga Passage and those who fish deep (depths of 150 to 180 feet) have done pretty well."

In Saratoga Passage, try Utsalady Bay, Greenbank, Baby Island, Polnell Point, Elger Bay, Camano Head and Onamac Point.

In the San Juan Islands try Coyote, Middle and Hein banks. The inner-islands are spotty with the best reports coming from Spring Pass, Thatcher Pass, Fidalgo Head and Lopez Island.

In North Sound, Steve Kesling, owner of Adventure Charters in Seattle reported that Dennis Manary of Seattle caught a 24-pound blackmouth at Point No Point this past week.

Overall, catches have been light in North Sound at Possession Bar, Double Bluff off south Whidbey Island, the east side of Marrowstone Island, Midchannel Bank and Mats Mats Bay. In Central Sound, it is slow to fair at Manchester, Jefferson Head, Allen Bank off Blake Island, Southworth and Kingston.

In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, fishing was decent at Sekiu, but slower off Port Angeles and Discovery Bay. In Hood Canal, the Misery Point area was fair.

Sekiu Blackmouth Derby results: 1, Murphy Rhodes, Lake Forest Park, 18.6-pound chinook, $1,000; 2, Dick Coleman, Enumclaw, 18.18, $500; 3, Primo Baccetti, Seattle, 17.8, $300; 4, Caryn Lara, Clallam Bay, 17.16, $200; 5, Mike Jacoby, 14.72, $100.

Discovery Bay Salmon Derby results: 1, Brad Alexander, Bremerton, 20-pound, 4-ounce chinook, $3,000; 2, Patrick Allen, Issaquah, 20-0, $1,500; 3, James Southard, Lilliwaup, $750; 4, Geoffrey Cobb, Port Angeles, 13-0, $500; 5, Richard Hosmer, Port Angeles, 12-7, $300.

Stanwood Eagles Hot Plug Winter Blackmouth Derby results: 1, Jason Jefferson, 18-pound chinook, $3,375; 2, Bud Greenhalgh, 14-7, $1,500; 3, Joe Girdler, 12-2, $1,125; 4, Sam Monroe, 11-9, $750.

3. Steelhead in southwestern and northern Olympic coastal rivers: "I heard from our bait guy that there was a 30-pound, 6-ounce (43 inches long and 23¼ inches in girth) steelhead taken in Satsop last week, but it was the only fish caught that day," said Maria Beppu, owner of Linc's Tackle Shop in Seattle.

On North Coast, Soleduck anglers averaged half a steelhead per rod this past week; 0.43 fish per rod in the Calawah; 0.39 in Lower Hoh; 0.19 in Upper Hoh; and 0.13 in Bogachiel-Quillayute.

"Those are the best checks we've seen for the Hoh River this season," said Bill Freymond, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. "More than 80 percent of the steelhead caught in North Coast rivers were wild fish."

"The Wynoochee River has been teeming with both fish and anglers in recent days," said Scott Barbour, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.

Barbour said, a friend recently caught six steelhead in Wynoochee in one day, and he had to release the four wild fish caught."

Other fishing spots

Tacoma area: "Not many fish around since it reopened Saturday, and the few caught have come off the slag pile and Clay Banks," said Tim Hartman, manager of the Point Defiance Park Boathouse in Tacoma.

Hood Canal: Sport fishing has closed for all species of bottomfish, herring, smelt, anchovy, octopus and sea cucumbers. Salmon, trout, clams and oysters are not affected by the closure.

Smelt in Cowlitz River and other Lower Columbia tributaries: "Little to nothing as far as smelt goes in the Cowlitz," said Gary Sumner at Carnival Market in Kelso. "I heard more were in the Columbia, but they haven't moved up yet."

Snohomish and Skagit river systems: "No big numbers of native steelhead, but fair enough to keep the guys busy on the Skykomish and Snoqualmie," said Bryan Nelson at Three Rivers Marins and Tackle in Woodinville. "The Skagit has also been fair for natives."

Green River: Closed to all fishing.

Cowlitz River: Slow for steelhead.

Kalama River: Fair for steelhead and a few spring chinook.

Lewis River: Slow to fair for steelhead.

Washougal River: Fair for steelhead.

Columbia River: "Some legals (sturgeon) caught in Vancouver area," Hymer said.

Fair for steelhead in the John Day and The Dalles pools.

Southwest Washington lakes: Klineline Pond was planted this week with 2,500 catchable-sized trout, 1,000 trout weighing half-a-pound apiece, and 424 trout weighing 2-1/2 pounds apiece; Kress Lake near Kalama was planted with 54 steelhead weighing 10 pounds apiece; Kidney Lake near North Bonneville was planted with 1,000 half-pound trout; Icehouse Lake near Bridge of the Gods was planted with 1,026 catchable-sized trout; and Little Ash Lake near Stevenson was planted with 994 catchable-sized trout.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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