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The Clamor Over Clams

Debate Over North Dakota Clams

In the late summer of 1990, several neighboring state wildlife agencies contacted the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and alerted us to the fact that nonresident clam pickers were considering moving their operations to North Dakota. We quickly found out that clamming had already begun, and that we lacked the statutory authority to prevent the harvesting of clams by anyone, resident or nonresident. Landowners, sportsmen, and conservationists all over North Dakota were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of "out-of-staters" harvesting our freshwater mussel resource unencumbered by rules or regulations.

Following our Department's discussions with the Governor's office and the attorney general, Governor George Sinner issued an executive order in September 1990 prohibiting the harvest of freshwater mussels in North Dakota. This order was to remain in effect until it was determined if North Dakota would have a season on clams and until proper rules and regulations could be developed. Prior to the issuance of this executive order, it was reported that several dozen tons of clams had already been taken out of the Sheyenne and Red rivers.

The first step in the process of dealing with this issue was to allow the Game and Fish Department to manage wildlife resources such as clams. When the original enabling legislation for the Department was put together more than a half century ago, no one could have known that some day even the most obscure form of wildlife would be threatened by human activity.

In late winter 1991, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 2036 which more clearly defined what wildlife is and gave the Department the authority to propose clam harvesting seasons and regulations if such actions were deemed appropriate. Since the final passage of the bill our Department has been evaluating the state's mussel resources, their commercial viability, potential regulations, scientific and ecological considerations, and public opinion. A decision to not allow a clam harvest in 1992 was made to allow the collection of more information pertaining to the reproductive success and potential of freshwater mussels.

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