Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Beach loyalty: Shellfish harvesting habits in Puget Sound

A new NWFSC Technical Memo reports on recreational shellfishing practices and the impacts of beach closures Contributed by Al Brown October 2016

Maybe you’ve seen the signs: “DANGER,” they say, with a skull-and-crossbones. “TOXIC SHELLFISH.” If you’re a casual visitor just looking for a place to walk, they are just a passing curiosity. But for a clam or oyster harvester relying on this particular beach to put food on their table, these closures can be more problematic.

In 2013, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, with support from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, conducted a survey about shellfish harvesting in Puget Sound to learn how beach closures might impact their behavior.

“Before making large-scale decisions about shellfish policy, we should know who’s out there harvesting,” said Leif Anderson, principal investigator on the survey and lead author of NWFSC’s latest Technical Memorandum. “Management decisions should take into account the people they’re going to affect.”

His team asked over 500 people to fill out a survey that examined every aspect of their shellfishing habits. Anderson believes the answers will help shellfish managers, like the Washington State Department of Health and tribal governments, to better understand the needs and reactions of harvesters, thereby improving the quality of management throughout the region.

As it turns out, almost two-thirds of those surveyed tend to harvest all of their clams, crabs, oysters, and other shellfish from a single beach. Even those who used more than one beach tended to visit beaches that were close to each other, showing how important individual beaches are to the harvesters who frequent them.

“Some beaches are very popular for harvesters,” Anderson said. “Knowing how many people are displaced when a particular beach is closed helps us estimate the real economic cost of a closure.”

Find out more about the survey and shellfish harvesting in Puget Sound Recreational Shellfishing Survey: Methodology and Results.