Once, while anchored on the coast of Brittany, I was intrigued
hundreds of French holidaymakers and locals busy digging in the mud
along the low-tide-line.
out that they were scouring the beach for cockles.
Whole families were clearly enjoying themselves in the
sunshine and no
doubt enjoyed eating the results of their foraging later.
Needless to say I joined in and soon had more than enough for
Unfortunately, I didn't have much idea how to cook them, and
wasn’t up to asking any of the locals.
So, before setting off with your spade, have at least some
idea what to
do with your ‘catch’ once you’ve got ‘em.
You also need to be aware that the most sought after
This category includes many of the most sought after, such as
clams, cockles and mussels.
Filter feeders are constantly passing the surrounding water
their bodies to extract nutrients, unfortunately, they can also filter
out and retain any toxins the water might contain.
So, you must only gather them form coastal areas that are free
sewage or other toxic pollutants.
And even in areas with a clean bill of health it is not a good
however tempting, to gather from enclosed or narrow stretches of water
such as marinas, harbours or narrow creeks.
‘Algae Blooms’ are another cause of shellfish poisoning.
These ‘Blooms’ usually occur in the warmer months but not
of these blooms will often be reported in the local news
and by port authorities and or environmental health authorities.
And many authorities will impose a ban on gathering if there
health issue, so check with the local authority.
It is also worth checking with local authorities as many areas
open and closed seasons and other restrictions for certain species,
these are implemented to preserve stocks and violation can incur a
And talking of seasons, for those in the northern hemisphere
much to be said for the old saying that you should only eat shellfish
when there is an R in the month.
In other words avoid late spring and summer as this it the
shellfish poisoning is most likely to occur.
Allowing bivalves to purge themselves by leaving them in clean
for a few hours will help to clear out any sand etc from their
intestines but won’t remove any toxic poisoning.
are perhaps the easiest to shellfish gather at low tide,
they will be
exposed (no digging required) clinging to rocks, ledges or on the
surface of sand and gravel bars.
Mussels are also one of the most sustainable types of seafood.
Oysters can be found just below the low tide line especially
nutrient-rich shallow water of tidal marsh areas.
You will find them on silt banks and attached to rocks and
You may not need a spade but you will need some sort of
chisel them free from the rock, jetty or each other.
And they do have sharp edges on their shells, so do wear a
thick gloves to prevent cuts.
If you prefer to eat your oysters raw, opening them can be a
You will need a sharp knife with a strong blade to cut the
muscle holding the shell halves together.
I much prefer them cooked,
the added benefit is
that a few
minutes cooking will open oysters easily.
Winkles and Whelks prefer rocky shores rich with seaweed.
They seem to have dropped right off the fashionable seafood
perhaps it’s because they are a bit fiddly, you’ll need a ‘winkle
picker’ to eat them (anyone remember winkle picker shoes?).
Even Limpets can be eaten but perhaps eaten is not the correct
there doesn’t appear to be any way to render them less rubbery.
Clams and Cockles prefer to live in shallow water, with sand,
mud bottoms where they can burrow from predators (foragers) yet still
be able to maintain a steady supply of nutrient rich water.
Occasionally, a few old shells left exposed, at low tide will
the presence of a clam bed.
Sometimes their breather holes can be spotted in the mud.
more often it is a tiny jet of
water shooting from the
sand under a
footfall that betrays their presence.
Then you’ve gotta dig them out with either a spade, rake or
with your hands.
Mostly they will only be a few inches below the surface, so
there is no
need to go mining.
Be careful where you deposit the excavated mud/sand, don’t
pile it up
where it could smother any creatures below.
And no matter how tempting, don’t excavate an entire shellfish
As with any foraging, only take enough for your immediate
needs and be
sure to leave enough to ensure the continued survival of the bed.
Clams are usually much easier to pry open than oysters, but as
shellfish a few moments steaming works wonders.
And most, especially those meaty razor clams only require a
group of shellfish includes those delicious aquatic animals such as
lobsters, crayfish and shrimp etc.
These arthropods are free swimming creatures that have to be
and many of the bigger ones can fight back, so watch your fingers.
Most can only attack from the front with their pincers but
rules there are exceptions, spider crabs can reach behind with those
long spindly limbs, so beware.
Arthropods are creatures that have an exoskeleton, so no
bones to worry about.
There is an ongoing discussion which not event the ‘experts’
agree on, do crabs and lobsters feel pain.
“Kill quickly and eat soon”, should be every forages motto.
end any possible pain or even stress at being
quickly than to prolong it.
Perhaps I should also add to that, don’t catch anything that
you do not
know how to deal with and don’t catch more than you can use.
Catching Shrimp used to be part and parcel of a day at the seaside.
seaside shop sold shrimp/prawn nets; they were as
ubiquitous as a
bucket and spade.
Whether or not many were ever caught is another matter.
any child can tell you that small tidal rock pools are an
ideal place to find tiny immature specimens of many sea creatures.
They are an ideal place for children to become acquainted with
but you gotta feel sorry for those tiny shore crabs and immature,
velvet swimming crabs, being gleefully chased, caught, put in a bright
plastic bucket and then, hopefully, released again.
successful hunting, for the pot, requires a knowledge of
mature quarry, its habits and its favoured habitats.
Shrimp prefer sandy muddy estuaries while prawns keep
rocky shores and rock pools.
While the optimum times and places to catch them can vary
the sore, usually the best time is when there's very little current,
such as slack water on a neap tide.
is possible to gather crabs within the intertidal areas but these
will be tiny immature specimens.
Reasonable sized specimens tend to remain beyond the low water
It is possible to catch them by wading out between thigh and
or by diving but the preferred method is with a baited, lobster or crab
Here again, knowing the tides
and currents and choosing the right time
and place so important.
I am perfectly aware that the majority of Wooden Boat aficionados are sensible folk. However, I need to point out that I am an amateur wooden boat enthusiast simply writing in order to try to help other amateur wooden boat enthusiasts. And while I take every care to ensure that the information in DIY Wood Boat.com is correct, anyone acting on the information on this website does so at their own risk.