It’s been said that "when the tide goes out, the table is set." The truth of that adage is apparent on the saltwater beaches of Puget Sound and Pacific coast, where a banquet of clams, oysters and other shellfish is available for harvest at low tide.
One reason for the popularity of clam digging is that most people– including kids– are successful at it. Using nothing more than a trowel-sized garden rake, harvesters often can dig their limit of “steamer” clams in less than an hour. Razor clams, found on coastal beaches, present more of a challenge, but harvesters usually return home with enough clams for several meals.
Hundreds of public beaches in Washington are open for the harvest of clams and oysters under various seasons and regulations. Before you head to the water, make sure to check the Washington Department of Health’s shellfish safety information to make sure with the beach you have in mind is safe for digging.
The type of shellfish available for harvest depends largely on where you choose to go.
- Puget Sound beaches: The gravel beaches that surround Puget Sound are populated by a variety of clams (Manila, native littlenecks, butter, cockles, macomas, eastern softshell, geoduck and horse clams), plus two species of oysters (Pacific and Olympia). All are available for harvest at various beaches at various times of the year. For “steamer” clams (which include all varieties except geoduck and horse clams), the daily limit is 40 clams or 10 pounds in the shell, whatever comes first. There are also separate daily limits for geoducks (three), horse clams (seven) and for oysters (18). Unlike clams, oysters must be shucked on the beach, because the shells are important in spawning juvenile oysters.
- Pacific coast beaches: Unlike Puget Sound, very few areas of the Pacific coast are open to public harvesting of steamer clams or oysters. But the coast has something Puget Sound does not have – razor clams. Even in winter, as many as 20,000 people may descend on five designated coastal beaches to dig these meaty mollusks. The daily limit is the first 15 razor clams, regardless of size or condition. Digging opportunities are announced by WDFW in advance, after beaches have been tested for marine toxins.
Wherever you plan to dig clams, the tides are the key to success. For steamer clams, the tide should be no higher than two feet above slack tide for a successful dig. For geoducks, the deepest-digging clams, the tide should be minus two feet or lower. Tide books, which list the high and low tides for each day of the year, are available at most sporting-goods stores.