Cingtaatarsurlita! – Let's gather razor clams!
Pacific razor clams (Siliqua patula) can be found in sandy beaches from California to the Aleutian Islands. Alaska is home to some of the world’s largest razor clams, which can grow up to a foot long. These large, narrow bi-valves have a thin, brittle, brown shell, and they are delicious!
Razor clams have a limited availability on Kodiak, due to its rocky coast. They typically occur on sandy or muddy outer coast beaches, from about four feet above mean low tide to a depth of 30 fathoms. However, they are relatively easy to find. These clams leave a distinctive dimple in the sand wherever they burrow. Strong diggers, razor clams can burrow up to five feet per minute to avoid capture. They can be collected during any low tide, but they are easier to harvest in spring when cool weather slows them down.
During the first half of the twentieth century, Kodiak Islanders worked in the razor clam industry on the Pacific coast of the Alaska Peninsula. The Kukak Cannery, built in 1923, processed clams harvested from abundant bed in nearby Swikshak Beach. The cannery employed Alutiiq men to dig clams, living in camps along the beach. They worked with men from the Quinault Indian Reservation and workers recruited in Grays Harbor, Washington. It was a tiring, dirty job done with a shovel and hip boots. The men packed live clams in 50 pound boxes, which were picked up by tenders for delivery to Kukak and other canneries.
Alutiiq women worked in the Kukak cannery processing clams beside ladies from other coastal Alaskan communities. A steamship transported them to the facility, where they lived in bunkhouses and ate in a mess hall. During the day, they spent long hours loosening clams from their shells and cleaning the meat. But after hours, the Kukak cannery was a lively community, where people made close friends, enjoyed music, played games, and explored the bay.
Photo: Razor Clam on the beach at Cape Alitak, May 2010. Photograph by Sven Haakanson Jr.