Kalaloch Beach has been closed for the remainder of the razor clam season.
Olympic National Park announced the closure this afternoon, saying it was necessary to protect the health of the razor clam population.
This season’s harvest data, collected from October through February, indicates the razor clam population has suffered a decline, possibly due to the presence of pathogen or from removal by storm surges.
A review of digging success shows a steady decline since the season opened last fall. During early digs, people were averaging near the limit of 15 clams a person. But during January and February, the catch declined to less than three clams a person.
This season’s diminishing harvest is similar to the pattern observed in 2006-2007, according to Steve Fradkin, the park’s coastal ecologist.
Following that season’s closure, subsequent stock assessments led to a decision to close the fishery for the following season in order for the stock to rebuild.
Historically, a significant percentage of the Kalaloch razor clam population has been infected with the shellfish disease nuclear inclusion X, or NIX, said a park news release. Though harmless to humans, high levels of NIX can be fatal to razor clams.
In July 2010, the last period for which NIX data was available, approximately 95 percent of Kalaloch Beach razor clams were infected.
Kalaloch was already excluded from a planned dig beginning March 19. Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said biologists are hoping to do some population assessments this month to get a better sense of what is happening.
The park, which manages the beach, opted to close it for the rest of the season to save what clams remain.