Recreational sport razor clam and crab seasons are open along Clatsop County coastlines. While the season is open, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) continues to diligently monitor razor clam bio-toxin levels, algae phytoplankton blooms and shellfish numbers to ensure the fishery is sustainable.

Astoria-based ODFW Shellfish Biologist Matt Hunter manages the program along all 360 miles of the Oregon Coast.

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Matt Hunter has worked with ODFW for over 26 years. Through that experience he has gained invaluable expertise and an appreciation for the natural cycling of marine fisheries. Photo courtesy: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

For 26 years Matt Hunter has spent between 80 and 100 days per year collecting data, monitoring metrics on phytoplankton trends and conducting sample catch. “One of my favorite parts of the job is being able to go to beaches that I would not normally go to and explore the parts of the coast that are off the beaten path,” says Hunter.

His work includes responding to many reports of dead animals, mysterious creatures and tsunami vessels, such as the most recent wash-up on Arcadia Beach. Hunter also provides assistance in identifying native versus non-native species present on the debris or vessels. “I hadn’t seen a tsunami vessel since 2013, and this one was unexpected,” explained Hunter. “The vessel was dominated by native pelagic (open ocean) species, such as a colony of several hundred thousand gooseneck barnacles.”

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Matt Hunter, Project Lead Supervisor and Shellfish Biologist for the ODFW, leads a crew during a razor clam survey at Sunset Beach. Photo courtesy: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Prior to his time with ODFW, Hunter graduated from Knappa High School, attended local Clatsop Community College and then attended Oregon State University (OSU), where he later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science. While enrolled at OSU, he found himself searching for a career. “There was a point in college I realized I needed to start making money. One can only eat so much ramen in a lifetime, and I was lucky to be hired by ODFW out of Clackamas.” The Clackamas position worked with the Columbia River Fisheries Program and had Hunter splitting his time between the Clackamas and Astoria offices. Thus, when an opportunity arose to be full-time in Astoria, Hunter and his wife made the decision to put down roots close to family in their hometown.

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The Pacific Razor Clam (Siliqua patula) is collected and tested for domoic acid and paralytic shellfish poisoning on a regular basis to ensure safe harvesting. Photo courtesy: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

While his return to Astoria was a fortuitous coincidence, Hunter has enjoyed building partnerships and seeing the natural, cyclical nature of marine fisheries. “I really enjoy the collaboration with several partners within the algal bloom community. NOAA, tribes, Oregon agencies, commercial fisherman and recreational fisherman are working across jurisdictional boundaries to monitor shellfish bio-toxins. It’s a rewarding experience.”

Shellfish and other bivalves ingest single-celled plants called phytoplankton. Phytoplankton alone are not a problem. However, certain species of phytoplankton produce biological toxins that, when ingested by shellfish, will be stored in the animal. Hunter and other agencies are concerned with two types of biological toxins that west coast razor clams and other shellfish could be contaminated with: domoic acid and paralytic shellfish poisoning. Check Shellfish Closures or call the Shellfish Biotoxin Hotline (1-800-448-2474)? for up-to-date clam, crab and mussel closure information.

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Recording data, monitoring phytoplankton blooms, licensing and working with local fishermen all fall within Matt Hunter’s jurisdiction. Photo courtesy: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

During the winter months toxins are monitored and tested on a bi-monthly basis, while in the summer months testing increases to every week. “There is always more to learn. There are good years and bad years and a natural cycle with fisheries. Everything is so fluid within fisheries management, and over the years I have adapted and developed an understanding of these cycles,” said Hunter. “I have developed an understanding of how difficult it might be for fishermen.”

Matt works hard with local fishermen and also with the increasing pressure for social media presence. “ODFW social media presence has blossomed lately, and the staff working on increasing that presence are incredibly adept,” he shares. Keep your eye out on the ODFW Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds for live videos of razor clam stock assessments, closure information and more.  Follow the ODFW on Twitter for weekly updates to plan your fishing and hunting weekend.

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