Lummi Nation Shellfish Hatchery Adds All-Night Algae Feeders

Lummi’s shellfish hatchery grows its own algae to feed millions of geoduck, manila and oyster seeds.
Lummi’s shellfish hatchery grows its own algae to feed millions of geoduck, manila and oyster seeds.

By: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


The Lummi Nation’s shellfish hatchery is adding an all-night feeding system to its algae-growing operation.

For years, the hatchery has grown its own algae to feed growing manila clam, geoduck and oyster larvae. The new system installed this winter consists of 60 algae-filled bags in glowing Gatorade shades that pump directly into the raceways.

One of the hatchery’s three geoduck systems consists of 11 raceways that hold about 6 million geoduck seeds, which can go through 30,000 liters of algae a day.

“The new algae bag system will operate 24-7,” said Flavian Point, Lummi shellfish hatchery manager. “Overnight, it can produce an amount of algae that is equivalent to one of the hatchery’s 15,000-liter algae tanks.”

The geoduck operation has a total of 20 raceways when all three systems are online, having expanded from five raceways since 2010.

The expansion has provided new job opportunities. In addition to eight full-time staff, AmeriCorps provides five employees for 20 hours each week, and two tribal members have been hired through the Dislocated Fishers Program, which helps fishermen earn a living between fishing seasons.

The shellfish hatchery used to support itself through seed sales until the Lummi Nation took over operating costs in exchange for manila clam and oyster seed to enhance the reservation tidelands for tribal harvest. Only the geoduck seed is sold commercially.

Concerned about increasing water temperatures as a result of climate change, some of the geoduck seed customers, which include the Squaxin Island Tribe, have started seeding their beds earlier, which required the hatchery to spawn geoducks a month earlier.

“The goal is to get the seed planted before the water temperatures get too warm,” Point said. “The seed is looking good and the larvae on schedule to be ready in April.”

What’s Killing Clams? Solve This Low Tide Mystery

By Joshua McNichols, KUOW


One of the lowest tides of the year this weekend revealed a “crime scene” at the beach at Golden Gardens Park in Seattle.

The victims: thousands of clams that died in the prime of their lives. Each bivalve victim has a tiny hole drilled near its hinge.

Also strewn on the beach were gray rubbery things that looked like toilet plunger heads. The Beach Naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium say concerned citizens have collected them in buckets, upset that someone would have dumped so much litter on the beaches.

But it turns out that the holes and the toilet plunger heads are all the products of a little-known predator: the moon snail.

The culprit: Not a toilet plunger head, but the predatory moon snail. Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols


A Gruesome Murder

When it comes to the moon snail, Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalist Will Downs is unwavering when he describes how the moon snail treats its victims: The snail “doesn’t see his prey. He feels them. He tastes them. And if you’re a clam, he sneaks up on you and engulfs you.”

Low tide at Seattle’sGolden Gardens Park.
Credit: Joshua McNichols/KUOW


It gets worse. If the snail can’t smother the clam then and there, it drills through the clam shell with its bony, barbed tongue. That specialized tongue slowly files away at the clam, “day after day sometimes, until it can reach the interior, where the clam thought it was safe. Then it extrudes in there acids, enzymes, anything that’ll digest the clam.”

Downs grins as he delivers his punch line: “…and then it slurps up its own clam chowder.”

And those rubbery things that look like toilet plunger heads? Downs says they’re moon snail egg collars. The snail squeezes out the leathery substance by fusing together eggs, sand and its own mucus. As the egg collar emerges, it wraps around the moon snail’s shell, taking on the shell’s shape.

Case Closed

Before we condemn the moon snail, Seattle Aquarium naturalist Darcie Larson said the moon snail may be vicious predators of clams, but they’re an important part of the beach ecosystem of Puget Sound.

“If we had no predators, we might have too many shellfish. And then the shellfish population would get out of balance,” she said. “And they would eat up all the food, all the plankton in the ecosystem. We refer to predators like that as keystone species, and they hold the whole system together.”

So are moon snails threatened? Larson said anecdotally, the moon snails are doing well. Which is good, as other predators, such as sunflower sea stars, are currently suffering from a mysterious wasting disease.

This was first reported for KUOW.

Plenty of opportunities for local anglers

By Wayne Kruse, The Herald

If you’re a sport fisherman, these are the good ol’ days. A record number of fall chinook are wending their way up the Columbia, providing catches of one to two chinook per rod at the mouths of the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers the past several weeks. Some 900,000 coho are due in Puget Sound, and are taking up the slack left by a big pink run. So many razor clams are available on the ocean beaches that state officials have decided to start the fall digging season early.

And on and on. If you don’t want to get bit by a fish, stay away from the water.

State Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Joe Hymer, at the agency’s Vancouver office, said last week marked the largest fall chinook count (and still counting) since Bonneville Dam was built in 1938. The old record was a run of 611,000 fish in 2003, and this one is predicted to be somewhere in the 800,000-fish range.

Many of these big kings are “upriver brights,” headed for the Hanford Reach, and should be the basis for a gunnysack fall fishery in the area of the Vernita Bridge, upriver from the Tri-Cities.

Creel checks on the Reach last week showed 762 boat anglers with 244 adult and 132 jack chinook, but that success rate will improve rapidly.

Farther downriver, below the mouth of the Lewis, anglers made 5,654 trips on Sept. 6, 7 and 8, and nailed 5,351 kings for a success rate of 0.95 fish per rod. That’s unheard-of fishing on the lower Columbia.

On the local front, the annual derby for the blind was held Monday, and results bode well for this weekend’s big Everett Coho Derby. Jim Brauch, avid angler and an Everett Steelhead and Salmon Club member, hosted a derby participant Monday and limited out in Brown’s Bay on silvers of 5 to 8 pounds. He said 55 feet was the magic depth, and an Ace High fly the top lure.

“Other fish were caught throughout the system,” Brauch said. “The big fish contest was won by a nice 15-plus-pounder from the east side of Possession. (There’s) lots of fish from Mukilteo to the shipwreck and on the west side of Possession. I don’t know how many fish were caught, but all blind participants had at least one fish and most had more than one.”

Brauch said he also talked to anglers at Douglas Bar on the Snohomish River on Sunday. They reported coho as far up as the Highway 522 bridge.

Mike Chamberlain at Ted’s Sport Center in Lynnwood said there seems to be good numbers of silvers in the area, and that the derby should draw well. He said the fish are moving, not schooled up particularly, and that fishermen should cover a lot of water.

“Coho are where you find them, and hanging around all the rest of the boats can be counter-productive,” he said.

Chamberlain likes the Grand Slam Bucktail in green, and the Ace High fly in either chartreuse or green spatterback, or purple haze, behind a green or white glow flasher. The “Mountain Dew” series of Hot Spot flashers also are fish catchers, he said. Rig the flies 32 or 36 inches behind the flasher, and add a small herring strip.

There will be two free fishing seminars prior to the Everett Derby. The first is tonight — from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. — at the Tulalip Cabela’s Conference Center, where Ryan Bigley of Soundbite Sportfishing will share tips and tactics for advanced coho fishing in Puget Sound. Space is limited; RSVP by calling 360-474-4880.

The second seminar is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday and features John Martinis of John’s Sporting Goods in Everett, with everything you need to know to fish the coho derby. The venue is Everett Bayside Marine. For more information, call Bayside at 425-252-3088.

In a first for this area, the Sportsman Channel and Comcast are teaming up with the Everett Derby to donate fish caught by participating anglers to help those less fortunate. The event is part of the Sportsman Channel’s Hunt.Fish.Feed. outreach program that taps an underutilized food source of game meat and fish donated by sportsmen to feed those struggling with hunger across the country.

Participating anglers from the Everett derby are expected to donate more than 1,000 pounds of fresh fish to the Volunteers of America food bank in north Everett.

Lots of clams

State shellfish managers are practically begging diggers to take razor clams off their hands, as the fall season arrives.

“We have a huge number of clams available for harvest this season, paricularly at Twin Harbors,” said Dan Ayres, the state’s coastal razor clam honcho. “There are only so many good clamming tides during the year, and we decided there was no time to waste in getting started.”

Ayres said that while the fall digging schedule is still being developed, managers saw no reason to delay a dig at Twin Harbors.

So Twin Harbors is open tonight through Monday. Tides are as follows: Today, minus 0.3 feet at 7:13 p.m.; Friday, minus 0.5 feet at 7:57 p.m.; Saturday, minus 0.5 feet at 8:39 p.m.; Sunday, minus 0.3 feet at 9:21 p.m.; and Monday, 0.0 feet at 10.04 p.m.

Ayres said estimates of coastal razor clam populations indicate some 800,000 more clams available for harvest this year than last. And last year saw 420,000 digger trips harvesting 6.1 million clams, for an average of just under the per-person limit of 15 per day.

And if 2013 is going to be better than that, it’ll likely get wild down there in the dunes.

For more outdoor news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at

Geoducks, Crabs and Sea Slugs For Food and Profit

Jackleen De La Harpe, Indian Country Today Media Network

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe crabbers fish for Dungeness with a seductive perfume—the smelliest squid, herring and oily fish—bait that lures crab into the pot for harvest. Dungeness, a sweet, meaty crab, is an important commercial fishery in the Pacific Northwest and a central fishery for the tribe, located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Fished by size, sex and season—no less than 6.25 inches, no females, and no take during the molt cycle—this management strategy contributes to a successful, sustainable crab fishery. This year, a two-day Dungeness opening in Puget Sound netted more than 150,000 pounds of crab in 48 hours.

Dungeness crab
Dungeness crab


Cliff Prince, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, understands the great value of the fishery, especially for his family. “My son, David, has been on my boat since he was 8 years old,” he said. “Being able to spend summers with him is a big thing for our family.” This may be the last summer that David Prince, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, fishes with his father. Prince, 22, a junior at Stanford, is majoring in American Studies and plans to apply to graduate school after he graduates.

“Most of the money I’ve ever had came from crabbing,” he said. “I learned about work from going out with my dad, getting up at 4 in the morning and getting home at 7 at night. It’s the kind of thing that’s shaped a lot of my life. It’s a few thousand hours I wouldn’t have had otherwise (with my dad), being out there every day.” For the tribe, he said, Dungeness crab is “life, meaning everything. It’s what you’ve got, it’s that and fish, and it’s why we’re still here. Going out on the water to get fish and crab, it’s what sustained the tribe back as far as anyone can remember.”

2. Scavenging the Spineless, Slippery ‘Slug-Like’ Sea Cucumber

Fishermen from Lummi Nation harvest a typical array of Northwest fish and shellfish — Dungeness crab, halibut, salmon, shrimp — and a relatively new fishery, the “exotic” sea cucumber, a spineless, slippery “slug-like” creature that divers pull from the rocks and sea floor. Phillip Jefferson, 43, Lummi Nation, began diving for cucumbers in 2001 when the fishery was just getting underway. Now he helps train some of the 50 people from Lummi who earn their living underwater—serious, difficult work that requires certification and strict adherence to safety procedures. Besides the cold Pacific waters, at near-constant temperatures of 45-50 degrees F, strong currents can tire divers while sharks or sea lions, which can weigh as much as a ton, may startle and alarm divers with limited underwater sight. Equipped with surface-supplied air, full face masks or helmets and mesh bags, fishermen may dive to depths of 60-90 feet to harvest the reddish-brown “ocean detritivore,” which is sold in Seattle and to markets in China, the Philippines, and Japan.

Sea cucumber (Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration; Underwater Photographer Kevin Lee.)
Sea cucumber (Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration; Underwater Photographer Kevin Lee.)


Jefferson’s diving supports his family and allowed him to buy his own boat, named for his daughter, Keesha Rae, 14. On a good day, he said, it’s possible to bag 300 pounds of cucumbers. Dive fisheries, including the sea cucumber, make up a small and important part of the Lummi Nation fisheries, grossing an estimated copy.2 million in 2011. Working underwater can be straightforward, he said, “when it’s really bright, you can see a long way.” At other times, it is complicated and even mysterious “when the tide is moving hard and the current creates a lot of debris, like snow. You can’t use a light and can’t do without one. Divers call it a whiteout.” He’s seen cucumbers curl up like corkscrews to avoid predators and roll away with the tide or stand on their tails like a cobra about to strike, perhaps to spawn or elude a predator, which could well be Jefferson himself. With a rapid reproduction cycle and continued management, Jefferson believes he’ll be able to dive for this thriving fishery well into the future.

3. The Spiritual Experience of Digging for Mollusks

Geoduck, in the Salish language, means dig deep. Northwest locals understand geoduck (pronounced gooey duk) to mean really big clam, which weighs, on average, two to three pounds. Dig deep may also refer to wallets—geoduck is found infrequently in U.S. restaurants because it is so expensive—most is shipped to China where, after it has been brokered, can cost as much as copy50 per pound on the plate. This high market value is one reason that makes it one of the most closely regulated fisheries in the U.S. and Canada.

Five-year-old Elona Bowyer of Gig Harbor, a bay on Puget Sound, holds a large geoduck. (AP Photo/Peter Haley)
Five-year-old Elona Bowyer of Gig Harbor, a bay on Puget Sound, holds a large geoduck. (AP Photo/Peter Haley)


The Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the State of Washington carefully co-manage the geoduck fishery. At the end of a diving day and before a boat is allowed to leave a fishing tract, the catch must be weighed to account for the harvest. Most of edible part of the geoduck is the siphon, which looks like an elephant trunk and can stretch from three or four feet under the sediment stopping just at the marine floor to feed. Divers find the hidden clam by looking for a bit of siphon sticking above the sediment or a cryptic discoloration in the sand. With a shot of high-pressure water, the diver exposes the siphon and catches the clam by the “neck” before it retracts deeper below the surface.

Marvin Johnson, 29, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, a certified commercial diver, has been a geoducker for the last three years. This work is his calling, his talent and a blessing, he said, because it allows him to support his family. But it is not just the economics—digging has made him spiritually and physically stronger.

“It’s a spiritual experience to be out on the water,” he said, “it’s especially spiritual to go underneath the water. Our ancestors didn’t have the ability to put on a dry suit, it’s something that it new to us—the crabs walking with you, fish swimming around you, you can see God’s beauty down there.”

4. Keeping Pace With the Speedy Razor Clams

Skill and speed—that’s the combination of a successful Quinault Indian Nation razor clam digger. Razor clams, identified by thin, delicate bronze shells, are fast; they can dig at a rate of two feet in less than a minute. Diggers look for telltale hole in the sand, jam a shovel down, and plunge a hand behind the blade to stop the clam from getting away. The Quinaults process the sweet clam meat at the tribally owned processor, Quinault Pride Seafoods, and sell the clams primarily in the Northwest for chowder or steaks. In the U.S., other than Alaska, only the Quinault Indian Nation commercially harvests razor clams for human consumption.

When scouring the beach for razor clams, diggers look for a dimple in the sand left by the clam's siphon; then they dig as fast as possible.
When scouring the beach for razor clams, diggers look for a dimple in the sand left by the clam’s siphon; then they dig as fast as possible.


Gerald Ellis, Quinault Indian Nation, starting digging when he was six years old and remembers traveling with his family to Celilo Falls on the Columbia River to trade tubs of fresh-dug razor clams for spring Chinook salmon. Meeting at Celilo was a way of life for his family as it was for so many coastal and river tribes in the Northwest, who traveled to Celilo Falls to trade, fish and reconnect. That tradition of thousands of years ended in 1957 when the roaring falls were submerged with the completion of the Dalles Dam.

“Celilo Falls was probably the biggest gathering place for all tribes in the nation, there was such an abundance of fish,” Ellis said. At 68, Ellis no longer digs commercially but takes his grandchildren with him to harvest his 100-clam limit, carrying on traditions that have existed from the beginning of time, and creating his own. He smokes and cans razor clams with jalapenos, an “awesome” combination that he doesn’t sell but trades and shares with family and friends.