No digging in the mud without a fishing license

Clamming along California's beaches is a popular sport for all ages. All it takes is a shovel, bucket, measuring gauge and valid fishing license! (Dave Ono DFG file photo)

Question:I can’t purchase a fishing license this year due to a citation I received last year while helping my friend take his abalone. The penalty was a one-year fishing prohibition, which I deeply regret.

I have now been invited to join some friends who will be clamming next weekend and I would like to know where my limit is. This may sound like I am pushing my limitation, but I would like to know before I get into more trouble. Obviously, I am not planning to take any clams that my friends catch, but I would like to join them while they are digging for clams.

Is digging mud considered fishing while only my friends who have licenses take clams that they find? I personally love nature, so I hope you can help me. As I mentioned, my goal is not taking clams, but joining with my friends in this fun event. (Jerry)

Answer: Sorry, Jerry. California Fish and Game law prohibits taking clams without a valid fishing license in your possession. Fish and Game laws also define taking clams to include any activity that can be considered to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill any clam.

According to retired DFG Captain Phil Nelms, these laws mean that if you are digging in mud and you do not have a valid license, you may be arrested. You may also be arrested if you are in the mud and are with people who are taking clams even if you are not digging. It would be best to just watch your friends from a distance as they enjoy their clamming experience.

Buying abalone shells at a farmer’s market in Nevada
Question: While wandering through a fair in Nevada last week I found a vendor selling seafood and abalone shells, and the shells still had the sport tags attached. I know that in California there is a law that makes selling abalone shells illegal, but do California laws hold up in another state? Is it legal to sell abalone shells in another state even though they were taken by someone with a California sport fishing license? (Paul R., Carmel)

Answer: Abalone and their shells taken under the authority of a sport fishing license may never be bought, sold, bartered or traded. Although California laws only apply when in California, transporting abalone (including the shells) and any other fish taken in California under the authority of a recreational fishing license across state lines for the purpose of sale is a violation of federal law. This federal law, the Lacey Act, can be enforced by any state wildlife officer who has been deputized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and most California game wardens are deputized.

The Lacey Act (U.S. Code Title 16, Chapter 53, Sections 3371-3378), passed by Congress in 1900, was the first federal law to address wildlife protection nationwide. It is a federal wildlife protection law that makes it unlawful to import, export, transport, sell, buy, or possess fish, wildlife, or plants taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any federal, state, foreign, or Native American tribal law, treaty, or regulation. This law allows the federal government to help states, tribes, and countries around the world to safeguard their wildlife resources. In its original version, the Lacey Act supported efforts by the states to protect their game animals and birds. It prohibited the interstate shipment of wildlife killed in violation of state or territorial law.

Those who knowingly violate the Lacey Act face maximum penalties of up to five years in prison and fines as high as $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations. Civil penalties may run as high as $10,000. Those convicted of felony offenses under the Lacey Act may be required to forfeit vehicles, aircraft, vessels, or other equipment used to commit the crime in addition to any fish, wildlife, or plants involved.

Can I carry a pistol for protection during archery only season?
Question: If I want to hunt deer and bear in the D-6 zone during archery season in August, would it be legal to carry a pistol for self-defense protection only? I do not feel like getting killed by a mad bear with an arrow in it that’s charging me. I want to be legal but also don’t want to get killed by a bear just because the lawmakers don’t trust me or the hunters of California to use a pistol only in self-defense. (Scott S.)

Answer: Hunters are prohibited from carrying a firearm while hunting during an Archery Only season or under the authority of an Archery Only tag. Fish and Game Commission regulations are very clear on this issue.

Section 354(h): Except as provided in subsection 353(g), archers may not possess a firearm while hunting in the field during any archery season, or while hunting during a general season under the provisions of an archery only tag.

The exception in 353(g) applies to hunting under a muzzle-loading rifle/archery tag.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at

2 responses to “No digging in the mud without a fishing license

  1. Thanks for sharing this review in here. This seems to give clear answers of what are the possible limitations of someone who doesn’t have any license on fishing and what are the related things that needs restriction of not having this license.

  2. Nice replies in return of this query with firm arguments and explaining everything about that.

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