The Dos and Don’ts of Clamming in California

Pismo Clams on beach
Pismo clams (Tivela stultorum) in Ventura (CDFW file photo)

Question: I am interested in clamming at some beaches in Santa Cruz County. I have seen clams on Sunset State Beach. Where can I find rules and regulations on clamming in Santa Cruz County or Monterey County? (Romeo)

Answer: Clamming is generally done from November to April during minus tide events. You’ll find the general clamming regulations in the California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 29.20. That’s immediately followed by additional rules and restrictions specific to certain subspecies: Gaper clams, Washington clams, littleneck clams, soft-shell clams, chiones, northern quahogs, cockles, Pismo clams, razor clams, etc.

At Sunset State Beach, it’s likely that you are encountering Pismo clams. There are restrictions specific to the harvest of Pismo clams in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties (CCR Title 14, section 29.40). In this area, there is an open season between Sept. 1 and April 30, with a daily bag limit of 10 clams that are at least a minimum size of 5 inches in greatest shell diameter. Every clammer taking Pismo clams (or any clam that has a minimum size limit) is required to carry a device or gauge that can accurately measure the minimum legal size of clams.

The area was once a popular clamming site for clam bakes as reported by an early-1990s Sunset State Beach General Plan issued by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Between 2008-2019, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) completed 21 semi-annual fishery-independent Pismo clam surveys at this location. Among 484 clams observed, the largest ever seen measured only 3.9 inches – well short of the minimum legal size. This may be due to predation from sea otters. Occasionally 3-4 inch clamshells are found with the hinge intact and with one valve broken, a classic sign of this predation. We do not recommend sport clamming at Sunset State Beach because of the absence of legal-sized clams.

Gaper clams occur in Elkhorn Slough in Monterey County. Clamming is prohibited within the Elkhorn Slough State Marine Reserve, but within the Elkhorn Slough State Marine Conservation area, clamming is allowed on the north shore of the slough in the area adjacent to the Moss Landing State Wildlife Area. There is a bag limit of 10 gaper clams, but all clams dug, regardless of size or broken condition, must be retained until the bag limit is reached.

In addition to clamming restrictions, current health advisories issued by the California Department of Public Health (which monitors biotoxins caused by algal blooms in bivalves, including clams) can be accessed by calling (800) 553-4133.

An annual mussel shellfish quarantine is enforced from May 1 to Oct. 31. This is in place to protect the public against Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning and Domoic Acid Poisoning, also known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning. Even though mussels are a different species, we recommend taking similar precautions, and discourage the harvesting of Pismo clams during the annual mussel quarantine.

Please remember that any person 16 years of age or older who is participating in clamming is required to have a valid California sport fishing license. An Ocean Enhancement Stamp is also required for ocean fishing (including clamming) south of Point Arguello (northern Santa Barbara County) except when fishing with a one-day or two-day sport fishing license.

Transporting crab home

Question: I plan to go crab fishing with my wife and daughter. The limit of Dungeness is 10 per person, so 30 for the three of us. My daughter plans to fly home, and we plan to drive transporting all the crab. How do I transport my daughter’s crab legally as I may have three limits and two fishermen on hand? (Walter)

Answer: CCR Title 14, section 29.85(3) specifies the daily limit of 10 Dungeness crabs – with no mention of possession limits. When possession limits aren’t specifically mentioned in the regulations, the possession limit and the daily limit for that species are the same – 10 Dungeness crabs in this instance.

Some states have laws that allow transportation of fish or game by another sportsperson, but California does not (other than Fish and Game Code, section 2345-2348, which allows the crabs to be shipped by common carrier).

Two people driving with three limits of crab are overlimit. Don’t risk a citation; keep the legal limit of 10 crabs each, and return the rest to the water.

Importing bison meat?

Question: My cousin in Wyoming invited me to go bison hunting next year in November. Are there any restrictions on bringing back bison meat to California? (Seth)

Answer: As bison are not of the family Cervidae, they are not subject to chronic wasting disease import restrictions. You will, however, need to fill out a Declaration of Entry form. Keep all licenses and/or tags required in Wyoming to take bison on your person and be ready to present them as you cross over any state lines.

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