Digging for clams
Marine Zone

How to razor clam

Digging razor clams is a challenging and fun recreational pastime with delicious rewards. Continue reading to learn some fundamental skills needed to harvest razor clams.

Razor clam conservation closure extended through at least October 2018

Based on a recent stock assessment, ODFW shellfish managers are extending the annual conservation closure along 18 miles of Clatsop County beaches from Tillamook Head (Seaside) to the Columbia River.

During the recent assessment, biologists found a razor clam population dominated by small clams 2.5 to 3-inches long. The extension of the closure at least through October will allow staff to collect feedback from stakeholders pertaining to potential management options to minimize the waste of undersize clams. Options include extending the closure through the winter (until March 1) to give clams time to grow into a size suitable for harvest.

In the meantime, beach-goers should consider bay clamming – another shellfish resource that can yield tasty results. And since September also kicks off the start of the crabbing season, why not have a couple of pots soaking while you dig?

Three tips to digging razor clams:

1) Be in the right place

The 18-mile stretch of Clatsop beaches accounts for 95 percent of Oregon’s razor clam harvest. The razor clam population in this area is much denser than any other area in the state.

Other areas such as Indian Beach (Cannon Beach); Cannon Beach; Short Sands (North of Manzanita); Cape Meares Beach (Tillamook); Agate Beach (North of Newport); North Beach and South Beach (Newport); Waldport Beach; North Umpqua Spit (Winchester Bay); Bastendorff Beach and North Spit (Coos Bay); Whiskey Run (Bandon); and Meyers Creek Beach (Gold Beach) will also have razor clams.

2) Be there at the right time

The lower the tide, the more beach will be exposed for digging. Minus tides are best; plan on being there two hours before peak low tide. When the swell is smaller, clams are likely to be closer to the surface making them easier to find and dig.

3) Look for shows

A razor clam's neck near the surface of the beach produces a distinct “show." Diggers look for shows in a couple of ways: Search for small round dimples, the size of a dime in dry sand or pound a shovel handle in the sand under receding surf to make a razor clam retract its siphon to create the dimple.

Razor clam behavior

Showing: When the tide recedes, razor clams are left below dry sand and often leave a trademark hole, dimple or indentation. This is commonly called a "show."

When a clam eats, it loosens the sand above its neck creating a show. Depending on the size of the clam and how far it is from the surface, the show can look like an open hole in the sand (see picture below) or more like a soft indentation with no hole.

a dime next to a clam show in the sand. The dime is slightly larger.
Typical razor clam show

Necking: When razors are feeding, they put out a second siphon to breathe in. This behavior is commonly called “necking."

A "v" shadow is formed in shallow water over the sand as the surf recedes. The "v" is caused by a clam's siphon sticking up out of the sand.
razor clam neck sticking out

Necking causes a very small “V” shaped break in the receding surf making it easy to find the clam.

Digging: As anyone who’s dug razor clams can tell you- they dig fast!
Unlike many bay clams that stay in place, razor clams can dig deeper in the sand to avoid birds, crabs, fish or humans. In fact, they can dig to nearly four feet deep!

To do this, a razor clam shoots water out its exhale siphon, which causes the muscles in the foot to contract and expand. 

A razor clam in clear water pumps sand out of its siphon as it buries itself deeper into the sand
Razor clam propelling water

Show pop: Hitting the handle of your shovel on the sand near a dimple in the sand that could be a razor clam "pops" the clam. This causes the indent to cave in and form an open hole, telling you it's a razor clam and not a mole crab, sand worm or other beach creature that burrows in the sand.  

Razor clam show

Start digging

Razor clams dig fast so you must dig faster. But dig carefully. Razor clams' shells are easily broken and they aren't called "razors" for nothing. 

Digging in dry sand with a shovel
Step one: Insert shovel straight down (6 inches deep) perpendicular to the clam's position in relation to the beach.

a shovel goes into the sand a few inches in front of a clam show

Step two: Push the shovel handle forward using the leverage of the shovel to pinch the clams neck. This inhibits their ability to dig.

a man pushes his hand into the sand next to a shovel blade that is already inserted into the sand.

 

 

 

 

Step three: Slide the shovel out while replacing it with your hand.

a man reaches into the sand to grab a clam

Step four: Carefully find the clam's shell and dig with your hand to remove it.

a man reaches into the sand to grab a clam

 

 

 

 

Step five: Collect your clam.

a man pulls a clam out of the sand

Digging in dry sand with a clam gun or tube
Step one: Place the clam gun so that it is off-center of the show with extra room on the ocean side. Razor clam shows are typically not directly above where the clam is but are angled slightly towards the ocean.

an image showing the outline of where a clam gun should be placed over the show. The clam show is slightly to the left of center in the circle with the ocean on the right.

Step two: With the air hole on the clam gun open, drive the gun straight down.

A man shoves a clam gun into the sand

Step three: Place your thumb or finger over the air hole of the clam gun. Lift the column of sand slowly and with your legs. This can be fairly heavy so you'll want to use proper lifting technique.

Step four: Move the clam gun away from the hole. Remove your thumb from the air hole and shake the sand out of the gun.

Step five: Collect your clam!


Don't be wasteful

Many diggers want only big clams and discard or rebury smaller ones. Other clams are broken while being dug and are left in the holes. ODFW has documented incidents of wasting small clams where 30-40 percent of dug clam holes contained broken or small clams. Fully 80 percent of the discarded clams die because they are broken, have their necks cut off, or are improperly reburied. 

ODFW regulations call for clam diggers to keep the first 15 razor clams they dig, regardless of size or condition.

How to reduce wastage

  • Look for siphon holes or “shows” that are dime-size or larger to avoid small clams. Small “shows," especially those smaller than the diameter of a pencil, are commonly associated with small clams.
  • Use a clam gun that is at least 4 inches in inside diameter.
  • Remember that harvesters must retain the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition. Small and broken clams must be included in the bag limit.

FAQs

What is the pink worm-like creature I found in my razor clam?

This is a nemertean worm (most often Malacobdella grossa) that lives in the siphon or body cavity of the clam. They are occasionally found in older razor clams. The worm's appearance can alarm harvesters but they are not harmful to the clam or the consumer.

Is razor clamming open?

Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) in cooperation with ODFW and other agencies collects and tests razor clams during most low tide series:

Why does razor clamming close?

Domoic acid -a powerful toxin- is the most frequent reason for razor clam closures. This toxin occurs naturally and is not new to the West Coast. Our understanding of how it interacts with marine organisms is still developing and the focus of ongoing research.

Seasonal closures (July 15 to September 30) on Clatsop beaches are in place to protect juvenile clams, which are most vulnerable at those times. 

Can I cook, freeze or cut these toxins out?

No, since the toxin is a chemical it cannot be cooked out like the bacteria found in other meats. Razor clams store this microscopic toxin in many fleshy places within their bodies so physical removal is impossible. 

Do razor clams move up and down the beach?

No, razor clams cannot move horizontally along the beach, but they can move up and down in the sand as they adjust to shifting sands, heavy surf and predators. 

How long do razor clams live?

Razor clams in Oregon can live five or six years and reach a size of 6-inches. The majority of sport and commercial razor clam catch in Oregon are 2-year-olds.

When are the Washington State beaches open for razor clam digging?

Check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife razor clam website.

I have a hard time digging clams or cannot dig them at all due to a disability. Is there a permit that allows for someone else to assist me in digging clams?

Yes. ODFW offers an Oregon Disabilities Hunting and Fishing Permit (includes shellfish harvest) for people who have written certification from their physician that they meet certain criteria. Here is the application (pdf). A recreational shellfish license is still required.

Additional information about razor clams

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