By Luke Whittaker
Chinook Observer 

Big Risk, Big Clams

Hardy commercial diggers sustain long tradition


Last updated 8/12/2021 at 11:35am

Luke Whittaker

Participation among licensed commercial clammers in Washington has declined over the past five years, from 132 diggers in 2015 to 68 in 2020 to just 29 this year.

WILLAPA SPITS - On isolated, shifting spits in seemingly perpetual fog, some dig their living from the sand.

Razor clammers each collected about 110 pounds per day on average last season, but diggers are finding more clams and a more favorable market this year, making for some memorable days for the relatively small group who work the detached Willapa Spits off the north end of the Long Beach Peninsula.

"At $3.75 per pound, I've never made more money this quickly," said Les Strange, 58, of Raymond, standing over a 50-quart cooler of clams. After averaging $2.20 in 2020, commercial diggers like Strange are hopeful the current market demand will continue.

Luke Whittaker

Many commercial clammers use baskets to hold their clams as they dig.

"That's pretty much what I do for a living all year. It's back-breaking work, but you get in shape. You get out what you put into it. You can't beat that," said Strange, adding that he hoped to dig 250 pounds that day.

In Pacific County, the commercial harvest is allowed only on the Willapa Spits, located within the mouth of Willapa Bay. The sand spits, only accessible by boat, present unique challenges and opportunities for commercial diggers each season. The relatively small area has abundant clam numbers and accounts for an outsized portion of the state's commercial clamming.

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