Samish Bay Northwest Washington: Costal Foraging


One of the joys of travelling is seeing how local people interact with the natural word. On a windy but clear day in Samish bay northwest Washington, at low tide, it was a real treat to see people out digging for clams and chasing crabs. The tactic for collecting clams is simple. Wait until low tide, find an appealing section of sand and dig. Well okay there might be a bit more to it, one local we spoke to said he liked to dig where the sand hadn’t dried too much. He would dig a circular pit about a foot deep, then he would excavate the edges of the circle. Scooping out sand and piling it on the side where his wife would then search for the clams.

The locals were out looking for 2 main types, bigger horseshoe clams of which only 8 were allowed and then a smaller butter clam, of which you could take more. The only equipment they had was a big shovel and a bucket, a very low-cost way of foraging for a large amount of food. While most were digging for clams, it was also the opening day of crab season, so we did see a handful of people combing the beach for red rock crabs.

The two most common species of crab in Samish bay are red rock and the bigger Dungeness crab. The Dungeness inhabit deeper water, so to gather them crab pots are baited and dropped from boats. The people on the shore were looking for red rock crab, the smaller of the two species. Easily identified by its black tipped claws, its deep red colour, and its smaller size in comparison to the Dungeness. These crabs were found in the shallow water, often partially buried in the sand or hiding under the seaweed.

The crabs had to meet minimum size requirements and only male crabs could be legally taken, to ensure sustainability of the population. Male crabs can be identified by looking on their underside at the plating. Males have plates that form a point, as opposed to females that have a rounded shape, see the pictures below to clearly see the pointed male plates.

Fried Butter Clam Recipe

This is a simple recipe that was given to us by a local, he claims it’s the best way to cook butter clams.

  • Butter clams
  • Eggs
  • Flour
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder

Its essentially frying the clams inside the shells. Cut the clams in half, but don’t cut the meat off the shells, dip each half into the eggs, and then batter in flour and seasoning. Fry each half face down in a bit of oil and then eat the meat straight out of the shell. The clams do still have to be prepped, by soaking them in salty water for at least 2 hours to rinse the sand out of them, and then the stomach removed when opened.

This isn’t meant as comprehensive guide to finding crabs and clams, more so a story of how people can still show a connection with nature, even in a day and age where life can be so caught up in technology, money and success, while providing some practical information about how the process occurs. Consult your local laws before attempting.

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