Enhancing Razor Clam Management Using Molecular Probes for Pathogen Detection (2014-16)

Jeremy Weisz
Linfield College, Biology
Unit #A468
McMinnville, Oregon 97128
Phone: 503-883-2704

Co-PI: Steven Fradkin, Olympic National Park

A parasite has been harming razor clam populations in the Olympic National Park. The parasite, called nuclear inclusion X (NIX), attacks the gills of razor clams, causing them to suffocate.

Razor clams are an important recreational and commercial fishery in the region, popular among Oregon and Washington residents, who head to the coast by the tens of thousands each clamming season. In Oregon, the commercial fishery lands about 150,000 pounds of razor clams a year, generating about $900,000 dollars annually. In Washington, a recent analysis estimates that recreational clamming contributes $27 million to the state’s economy.

To protect this economically important fishery and maintain the ecosystem services the clams provide, it is crucial to understand the cause and extent of the NIX parasite infection. Though there have been no indications of large declines in Oregon razor clam populations to date, there have also been no attempts to screen these populations for the parasite. This is, at least in part, due to the huge expense and time involved in using a histological method (studying tissue samples under a microscope) to detect NIX.

Dr. Jeremy Weisz of Linfield College wants to develop a molecular screen that will result in a quick and inexpensive method of determining if a single clam or a population of clams is affected by this pathogen. This technique should be faster, less expensive, and more accurate than the current method. Using the new technique, Dr. Weisz’s team, which includes undergraduate students, can then easily determine how pervasive the NIX parasite is among razor clams. This new tool and resulting data will provide fishery managers the ability to set catch limits, and help scientists begin to understand how the pathogen spreads.

Strategic Plan Focus Areas: Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture

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