Clam Digging Ethics

Clam digging ethics are an essential component of clamming that will assure good clam digging into the future.  Minimize the effect of your visit into the intertidal zone.  Take only enough clams to satisfy of your immediate needs.

Clam confusion? Know the clam species you want to dig. Misidentifying juvenile gaper clams as softshell clams is a common error made by clam diggers. Gaper clams are a saltwater orientated clam and are found in the lower to middle reach of the saltwater dominated bays while softshell clams are the dominant clam species in freshwater orientated bays. Some softshell clams occur in the lower reach of the saltwater dominated bays in areas with a source of freshwater such as, creeks, springs and seeps. Softshell clams commonly occur in the middle to upper reach of the saltwater dominated bays. Look for the distinctive gape in gaper clams. The siphons (necks) of gaper clams have a rough skin while the siphons of softshell clams are slick to the touch. We do not recommend digging juvenile gaper clams. Give juvenile gaper clams the time to grow to adult sized clams.

Know what you are looking for.  Click HERE to identify the show of the clam species you intend to dig.  Knowing how clams show will help to identify the clam species you intend to dig.  With experience you will gain confidence in your ability to identify the clam species you intended to dig.   

Dig carefully:

Think about your technique for digging bay clams.  Minimize your impact on marine species when digging bay clams with a shovel: 1) leave the garden shovel at home.  Select and use a shovel with a small blade such as a floral shovel or razor clam shovel.  2)  Use the blade of the shovel to delineate a work area when digging bay clams.  Dig a hole only large enough to remove the clam.  Clam shells are fragile and easily broken.  Dig an access hole adjacent to the show of bay clams to minimize the chance of breaking the clam’s shell or severing the clam’s siphon (neck).  3)  Protect you fingers when digging with you hands by wearing the type of rubber gloves used while gardening.  4)   Dig carefully to avoid breaking the shells of other clams encountered while digging for the clam species of choice.  Damaged clams (clams with broken shells or injured siphons) must be retained and count toward the possession limit.  Unbroken butter, cockle, and native littleneck clams as shown from left to right in the photograph below can be returned to the immediate digging area.

We recommend reburying butter, native littleneck or Manila clams and cockles with their necks facing upward. Rebury them to a depth of 2 inches in the hole where they were originally located with the short side of the clam facing toward the bottom of the hole and the long side facing up. The short side of the clam or cockle contains the digger foot and the long side of the clam contains the clam's or cockle's siphon (neck). Reposition, butter, cockle and littleneck/Manila clams just under the substrate and they will do the rest. 5)  Gaper and softshell clams are incapable of adequately digging back to their needed depth once removed and therefore illegal to return. 6) Do not upgrade. Make the decision to keep the clam before digging it not after. Respect the resource by retaining the clams you've dug. 7) Dig your own clams. It is illegal to assist others to dig clams. Remember conservation is the key to future clam digging.

Refill your holes:

Digging bay clams can often require the movement of a significant amount of substrate. When piled up mud and sand can hinder the access to the surface of other clams suffocating as many or more clams than were harvested.  Simply pushing the material back in the hole as shown in the series of photos below eases the impact on the clam bed for your next trip.

Ensure the future: Don't leave this! .......But do Leave this!

Crabbing Ethics

Crab for the future. Crabbers should be eager to release soft shell crabs because not only do soft shell crabs yield very little meat the quality of the meat is very low compared to quality of the meat from hard shell crabs.  The meat from soft shell crabs has been described as watery, mushy and lacking in texture.  Dissatisfaction with the crab meat from soft shell crabs results with the crab being discarded.  Identifying soft shell crabs in easy to do.  Soft shell crabs like the one shown on the left in the first photo below weigh less and are lighter in color than their hard shell counterparts shown on the right   

The Cheek Test is the best method to identify recently molted crabs.  Pick up the crab from the back as shown in second photo and turn it upside down and isolate the walking legs with the right hand.  

Carefully push the "elbow" of the claw towards the mouth of the crab, exposing the shell that is usually covered by the folded claw as shown in the third photo. “Gently” squeeze the cheek with your thumb and middle finger as shown in the forth photo. 

If the shell flexes or bends release the pressure and return the crab carefully to the water.   Squeezing the large center section of the first walking leg to determine if the crabs are hard shell crabs is an option preferred by some crabbers.  If the leg gives while being squeezed return the crab to the water.


Red red crab bias is based on misinformation of the uninformed. Both species of red rock crabs are native to the Pacific Northwest. Red rock crabs get a bad rap because they are more difficult to pick than Dungeness crabs. But the effort is worth the reward as shown in the photos below. The flesh of red rock crabs taste sweeter than Dungeness crabs. The crab melt shown on the right was made using crab meat from the the 7 picked red rock crabs shown on the left. If you are fortunate to get into large red rock crabs take the time to pick them clean and enjoy some fine dinning. Bill


To give the clams or crabs you have taken to another person you are required to give the other person a Fish and Wildlife Transfer Record of the transfer of the clam and/or crabs.Fish and shellfish (whole or parts, including fish eggs) which have been taken for personal use and then given or shipped to another person must be accompanied by the following information or you may complete the Fish and Wildlife Transfer Record below: 

1.  Kind and number of fish or shellfish;

2.  Date caught;

3.  Name, address, angling license or shellfish license number and Combined        

     Harvest or Hatchery Harvest tag number (if applicable) of the person who

     caught them.

The above information must also be provided to the wholesale fish or bait dealer when eggs from ocean-caught salmon are sold.


Person transferring fish or wildlife

Name:                                                                                            Phone:


License #:


Describe the species being transferred by recording the number of shellfish being transferred :

Razor Clams      .   Mussels      .  Cockles       .  Gaper Clams       .   Softshell Clams      .   Butter Clams       .   Littleneck or Manila Clams       . Purple Varnish Clams       .  Macoma Clams      .   Piddocks Clams      .   Other shellfish and invertebrates       .    Dungeness Crabs       .  Red Rock Crabs      .   Parts       .   To record parts of clams or crabs being transferred enter the number of of clams or crabs being transferred in the appropriate box and check Parts      ..

Transferred to Name:                                                                    Phone: