Clam diggers survey the beaches on the west end of Penn Cove Saturday, April 29. State Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers reminded clammers over the weekend that that beach is closed until June 1. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Enforcement officers remind clam diggers that Penn Cove beach is closed

A new rule closing shellfish harvesting at a popular Whidbey Island beach is catching many clammers by surprise.

Enforcement officers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife were busy over the weekend issuing dozens of warnings and, in some cases, citing clammers who were digging along the western shore of Penn Cove.

That stretch of the beach on Central Whidbey is closed to shellfish harvesting to allow shellfish populations to rebound.

It doesn’t open until June 1.

But not all clammers got the message and others ignored it, believing there was safety in numbers, said Ralph Downes, state Fish and Wildlife enforcement officer.

Downes estimates at least 130 people were taking part in illegal shellfish harvests in the closed portion of Penn Cove on Friday and Saturday.

“Many even said that they saw the signs, noting beach closure, but thought they must be in error due to the number of diggers out on the beach,” Downes said in an email.

“Wrong!”

Downes said he was pleased to see the number of clamdiggers dropped on Sunday, making him hopeful that people are getting the message.

The closure was announced in December, impacting the small but popular stretch that includes the beach from the Captain Whidbey Inn to Grassers Lagoon, where there’s often a flurry of activity during extreme low tides.

The shellfish closure on Penn Cove’s west side includes all clams, oysters and mussels through May 31. Cockles, a popular crab bait, are among those restricted for harvest.

Downes said he first starting getting reports of shellfish harvesting activity on the beach during a low tide in early April when an aerial survey by the Department of Fish and Wildlife revealed a large number of diggers on the closed portion of Penn Cove.

Most of the offenders are from off the island, he said. “Most of the locals seem to be catching on.”

Downes advises shellfish harvesters to frequently check the Fish and Wildlife Department’s website at www.wdfw.wa.gov for up-to-date information.

He said he’s also working on getting larger signs to post around the beach.

(This story was originally published Tuesday, May 2, 2017)