Shellfishing Tips


Disease-causing bacteria and viruses can be found in raw shellfish. Contamination can occur at any point in the food distribution system, including the point of harvest. Since shellfish filter water for food, any bacteria or viruses in the water will be concentrated in the animal and can make it unsafe to eat.

Shellfish harvested from polluted waters and areas of sewage discharge have higher levels of disease-causing organisms. As harvesters, you already know which areas are closed to shellfishing. These waters are tested for certain bacteria and are only closed to protect human health.

  • Don’t harvest from polluted waters. All harvesting is prohibited in closed areas.
  • Don’t discharge sewage into the water.
  • Store out of the sun, covered if possible
  • Protect shellfish from contamination. Store away from bilge water, fuel oil, and other chemicals.
  • Fresh shellfish should not be kept uncooked for much over a week.
  • Keep shellfish fresh by storing in an open container covered with a damp towel in a refrigerator or cool location.
  • Store oysters with the cup side on the bottom so that the oysters retain their juices.

When you dig soft-shell clams, bring a plastic bucket and fill with clean saltwater from the same area. After washing off the clams with cold water, leave the clams in the saltwater overnight, and they will clean themselves of inside sand and grit.

Shellfish Harvesters — Please Fill in Your Holes!

Recreational shellfish harvesters sometimes wonder why the Town of Barnstable Department of Natural Resources requires them to fill in holes dug while harvesting clams.

Here are the reasons:

  • Filling in the holes you dig protects both shellfish and people. When someone is using a shovel to dig for clams, the substrate dug from the hole is usually placed in a pile on the beach near the hole. This pile can get quite large. Even if it is small, the pile may not completely wash away or flatten out with the waves or incoming tide. The pile may be covering oysters, clams, or other animals that live in or on the beach. These animals suffocate and die when they cannot take in fresh seawater.
  • Another reason to fill in the holes is to keep people from falling or tripping in them. Even a small hole becomes a hazard when the tide covers it. Someone wading at the water’s edge is likely to take an unexpected dip if they step into the hole or trip at its edge. A hole not covered by the tide can still be an obstacle or cause injury to people with a mobility impairment or people who are not watching where they are walking.

Backfill your clam holes after digging

Clammers photo at top copyright © by Andrew Newman
Backfill infographic designed by Terkelsen Custom