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.
Think about your technique for digging clams. Minimize your impact on marine species when digging 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 in gardening over a pair of latex rubber gloves. 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 holes from which they were dug. Rebury 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. New to this year undamaged puprle varnish may returned to the digging area. 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.
ODFW allows clam diggers to return unwanted and undamaged clams to the immediate digging area. This policy conflicts with their philosophy and practice of minimizing wastage. Wastage is at the heart of the problem of allowing clam diggers to casually discard unwanted and undamaged clams to the immediate digging area because somewhere between *20 to 40 percent of the butter and littleneck clams casually returned to the immediate digging area die. Would requiring clam diggers to rebury unwanted and undamaged clams reduce the high percentage of mortality? Probably to some extent, but the percentage of mortality of the reburied clams is unknown.
Oregon’s liberal clam harvest practices are the cause of the high percentage of wastage of some species of bay clams returned to the immediate digging area. There are solutions to eliminate or minimize wastage of bay clams but ODFW is unwilling undertake the effort to do so.
*There is a study that quantifies the percentage of mortality that occurs for butter clams and littleneck clams returned to the immediate digging area. The 20 and 40 percent of morality is an approximation of my recollection from reading the study.
Keep off the grass:
Eelgrass beds are an essential component of the marine environment and provides essential habitat for numerous fish and invertebrates. Try to leave the eelgrass beds as you found them: Intact. Avoiding areas of eelgrass is fairly easy as it tends to be patchy within clam beds. Eelgrass beds usually have breaks where digging is easiest and best.
Refill your holes:
Digging 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!
Crab for the future. Soft shell crabs yield very little meat and 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 softer recently molted crabs are the more fragile they are. Handle softshell crab with care because they are susceptible to injury and death. Injury and mortality occur most often when the crabs are casually tossed into the water. If it is at all possible lower the softshell crabs into the water and then release it.
Consider my experience receiving a gift of 1 and 1/2 backed Dungeness crabs. My elation turned to disappointment as soon as I discovered that 2 of the halves contained very little meat because the crabber chose to keep a soft crab. I made a crab Louie but the quality of the crab meat fell well short of expectations. However, it is legal to retain softshell crabs and ODFW promotes the retention of softshell crabs.
We cannot depend on ODFW for guidance when it comes to the question of taking or releasing soft shelled crabs! At what point of the crab's development is a recently molted crab worth keeping? Actually there are some crabbers who like eating recently molted crabs. But! for the rest of us at what stage of the crab's recovery are crabs worth keeping? Some studies suggest that 45 percent mortality rate of softshell crabs occur as compared to hard shell crabs. There are more questions than answers when it comes to the mortality of Dungeness crabs as applied to current harvest practices. There is no reason why ODFW cannot supply the answers.
Their light color is one of the indications that a crab has recently molted and has a soft shell. The cheek Test is one of several methods to identify recently molted crabs. Pick up the crab from the back and turn it upside down. 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. “Gently” squeeze the cheek with your thumb and middle finger. If the shell flexes release the pressure and return the crab to the water; or, squeeze the large center section of the first walking leg to determine if the crabs are hard. If the section of the first walking leg gives in, return the crab to the water. If the center section of the first waling leg is hard but the abdominal flap flexes inward when squeezed the crab is full enough to take. Return soft shell crabs to the water. Even though the limit of crabs is 12, keep only enough crabs for your immediate needs.
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 ROCK CRAB BIAS
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 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 dining. Bill
Regulations, limits and/or open areas may change. Call ODFW for current information.
All persons 14 years or older must have in possession a valid
Catch and Possession Limits: The term catch and daily limits are confusing and ODFW seemingly interchanges their use. As far as I can determine the catch and daily limit refer the same thing. They both refer to the taking of the daily limit of shellfish in the field. The possession limit is: 2 daily limits for all species.
Catch and possession limits apply to all waters and across Zone boundaries and apply to all fish and shellfish in possession regardless of condition. This includes fish and shellfish which are fresh, and when lawful, frozen, canned, smoked or otherwise processed. Daily Limit: Maximum number of fish or shellfish which may be legally caught and reduced to possession in one day. An angler may take daily limits of several types of fish per day.
Daily Limit: Daily Limit: Maximum number of fish or shellfish which may be legally caught and reduced to possession in one day.
Possession Limit: Maximum number or amount of a type of fish or shellfish that a person may lawfully possess in the field or forest, or in transit to the place of permanent residence. The possession limit is: 2 daily limits for all species,
Size Limit: It is unlawful to take or have in possession any fish or shellfish that are smaller than the minimum size or larger than the maximum size limits. All undersized, oversized, prohibited species or unwanted fish or shellfish taken must be immediately released unharmed and should not be removed from the water.
In the Field,
Shellfish:: Abalone, clams, crabs, crayfish, mussels, oysters, piddocks, scallops, shrimp and other marine invertebrates with shells.
Take: To kill, reduce to possession or control.
REGULATIONS FOR SOME MARINE SHELLFISH AND INVERTEBRATES
The following summarized regulations apply to the Pacific Ocean, coastal bays, and beaches. For complete information, Sport Fishing Regulations books may be obtained at ODFW offices and wherever licenses are sold.
OPEN SEASON: Entire year and at all hours. Exceptions are listed under “Harvest Methods and Restrictions” in the table below, and except when any state agency has issued a public health advisory. To learn about current health advisories, contact Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, 800-448-2474.
OPEN AREAS: All areas are open except Marine Gardens, Research Reserves, Habitat Refuges, and Shellfish Preserves. These areas have signs indicating their locations and are listed and mapped in the Sport Fishing Regulations book.
1. Waste fish, shellfish or marine invertebrates.
2. Use chemicals to take fish, shellfish or marine invertebrates.
3. Assist in the harvest of another person’s catch except under a Disabled Clam Digger Permit or a Permanent Disabilities Permit. See the ODFW for regulations governing the responsibilities of the disabled clam diggers.
4. Sell any sport caught fish or shellfish, except the skeletal remains of nongame marine fish.
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.
TRANSFER OF FISH AND SHELLFISH TO ANOTHER PERSON
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
The above information must also be provided to the wholesale fish or bait dealer when eggs from ocean-caught salmon are sold.