A Beginner’s Guide to Gathering Your Own Shellfish

oysters bucket
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As winter comes to a close and the days start to stretch out, it’s a great time to get into shellfishing. In many coastal states, a variety of options (mussels, clams, oysters, and more) are still available to dig, forage for, or trap. And with the longer, milder days finally starting to make an appearance, making a day of it is all the more enticing. 

There are a few things to know before going out and digging up some clams, though. You’ll need some tools (and yes, one of those tools is booze), and you’ll also need to know what’s in season so as to avoid any possible penalties if you’re caught with illegal shellfish.

What Shellfish Are In Season (and When) in the U.S.

The shellfish schedules for both coasts are fairly similar, with the main difference being what species are available. Clamming tends to run through March and sometimes April. Razor clams in particular stick around a bit longer, often until May, and are a true gem of the Pacific.

The shellfish schedules for both U.S. coasts are fairly similar, with the main difference being what species are available.

While delicious Dungeness crab season runs most of the year, most are harvested in the winter in the Pacific Northwest (you may have seen a show or two about it). A wide variety of scallops and mussels tend to run year-round along the Atlantic and Pacific, but it’s best to get them before summer.

Remember to check in with local state regs to see what’s eligible to be harvested, where you can go, and any limits on your take. Most states require licenses as well. Guides like this one from New York are pretty typical and a great resource.

What You Need to Gather Shellfish

You can likely make a day of it with little more than a few selections from your garage or garden shed. A rake and a trowel are needed for digs, while a bucket and a scale will be needed to accommodate your catch. Gloves aren’t a necessity but are highly recommended.

Crabbing is more involved as you’ll likely need a boat and more specialized equipment like pots and bait. Look online to see what’s available at your nearest coastal town in terms of guides. That, or let the pros log the hours and pack some home from your favorite seafood stand or beach market (our preferred method).

Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG/Getty Images (left); Kacey Klonsky/Getty Images (right)

If you’re going to be eating on site or while you’re out, pack a trusty shucking knife. And if you need reminding how best to use said knife, click here. Pack a cooler and some plastic bags for transport.

Be sure to be aware of the tidal schedule as well. Look for low tide peaks and plan for several hours around then.

The Best Booze to Pack for Shellfish Gathering

There are many ways to accent your catch of the day. For oysters, a go-to is Muscadet. The French wine has an acidic brightness built for oysters. A cult favorite is Domaine de la Pepiere.

Belgian beer is another safe bet. The tartness and yeasty nature of many farmhouses do great with crab, clams, and most seafood stews. A great domestic option is Tank 7 from Boulevard Brewing. For something genuinely Belgian, try Chimay’s blue label Grand Reserve and pair its richness with some buttery shellfish broth.

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, pack a bottle of sherry with you. A simple, briny Fino plays beautifully with fresh oysters, especially when they’re grilled.

Because you’ll likely be digging during the light of day, lower-ABV session beers are probably in order. Pack a few cans of Founders’ All Day IPA or 10 Barrel’s Pub Beer.

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