Clam survey finds plenty of clams in the sand
The first organized survey of clams found in the sand of Birch Bay was carried out Saturday, June 12, by 22 volunteers organized by the county’s Marine Resources Committee (MRC) under the leadership of Erika Stroebel. The purpose was to provide baseline information about the types, numbers and sizes of clams found in Birch Bay as a first step toward both community education about the resource and future attempts to establish sites for restoration and enhancement of desirable clam species.
“We won’t have the results tabulated for release for some time,” Stroebel said, “but there were some pockets where we found high populations of what are called varnish clams, especially around Cottonwood Beach,” the part of Birch Bay immediately east of Birch Bay Village.
Varnish clams are a far eastern species introduced into British Columbia in the late 1980s that spread south rapidly into Washington waters. The small clams, usually about two inches long and dark in color, were introduced into British Columbia by a ship carrying contaminated ballast and that purged its tanks in the Vancouver harbor. Densities of the small, dark clams have been observed that reach over 1,500 per square meter of beach, and they now occur as far south as Oregon.
Each team of diggers was assigned a line perpendicular to the beach and dug holes one cubic foot in size 100 feet apart, spreading the clams they found on a plastic sheet to count and identify before replacing them in the sand.
“We always fill the holes, as everyone should,” said Stroebel, “and that’s one of the reasons we did the survey. We also want to help the community learn more about the shellfish in Birch Bay and how to conserve them. Two of the bigger issues are getting clam diggers to fill in holes they dig and not keep clams that are too small.”
The survey was delayed a week by concerns over working on private property, as aside from Birch Bay State Park, many Birch Bay waterfront property owners own title the tidelands.
“Sometimes that means to sea level, sometimes to mean lower low water, and sometimes to extreme low tide,” said Stroebel, who was able to get permission from all the owners whose land she needed to survey.
Eight other species were found by the survey teams. Besides varnish clams, they also found littlenecks, butterclams, manilas, two types of macoma clams, horse clams and eastern soft shell clams.
Varnish clam beds are often infested by small native pea crabs that can be very difficult to eradicate once established, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). The concern they list on their website is that someone allergic to crab meat could unknowingly eat a pea crab along with a host clam and get sick, which makes them less desirable as a market species.