Last week’s NOAA-sponsored harmful algal bloom forecast for the Pacific Northwest gave the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) confidence to proceed with this week’s opening of the Washington recreational razor clam fishery. The opening coincides with the occurrence of the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival, an event celebrating the fishery since 1940. WDFW expects as many as 40,000 people could visit the coast this weekend to dig razor clams, resulting in as much as $3.6 million for Washington’s small coastal beach communities.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) also uses the forecast to inform management of its commercial and recreational razor clam fisheries. The recent bulletin provided forecast information that led managers to not order additional biotoxin testing above and beyond the standard testing. ODFW expects harvesting on the north coast to increase as spring low tides and better weather allow improved access to the tasty clams that have economic importance for Oregon’s coastal communities.
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) of the toxic algae Pseudo-nitzschia along the Washington and Oregon coasts produce the neurotoxin domoic acid. When the toxin builds up in shellfish, it can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans. State agencies monitor commercial and recreational shellfisheries for HAB toxins and close the fisheries when domoic acid exceeds safe levels.
The NOAA-sponsored forecast relies on a variety of efforts that model ocean conditions, monitor offshore parameters, and measure algal and toxin concentrations along the coast to make predictions of harmful algal bloom outbreaks. The system began in early 2017 to support management of shellfisheries, clamming beaches, and human health. The forecast is a partnership between NOAA, the University of Washington, the Makah Tribe, the University of Strathclyde, the WDFW, and the ODFW. NOAA’s Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms research program currently funds the production of these forecasts, but NOAA and its partners are developing a plan to transition the system to permanent operation.