Oysters and clams live along the shoreline substrate below the high tide level. Figuring out just how far below that mark is a puzzle. Gathering mollusks requires a low tide. This seems obvious, but how low is low enough? I’ve picked oysters from rocks just below the roadside parking along Seabeck Bay. But I’ve also waited on minus tides to tiptoe 50 yards across a mudflat to an oyster bed.
I searched through my library, asked a few locals, and scanned the internet for solid answers, but I can’t find a rule that applies to my gathering scenario. I think because the rule is that there is no rule. Maybe it all depends on variables of slope, beach composition, organized shellfish enrichment efforts, or the number of foragers like me gathering and gobbling resources.
The tide poses a bit of a challenge this month and all of February. Low tides are predicted at night, between 8 pm and 11 pm. It gets dark around 6pm, and I can’t find an oyster until I’m almost standing on one. Clams are even more difficult. I don’t like foraging alone in the dark. I’m not scared of the dark, but I’m afraid of things hiding in the dark, like the Boogie-Man.
I tried to bribe my son, Garret, to go with me, promising to fry up a batch of oysters once we came off the beach, but he wouldn’t budge. “I’m not freezing my butt off on a Saturday night hunting oysters. I got plans.”
“What could be more fun than gathering oysters with your mama?”
“Me and Klye are hanging out.”
“Kyle and I.”
“So what time is Kyle coming over?”
“Don’t know. Gotta call him.”Garret put his headphones back on and shut his bedroom door. Kyle’s father is a bit of a survivalist. I got an idea, and evil little idea. I’ve parented sons for twenty-five years now and have picked up a few tricks. I dialed Kyle’s number.
“Hey Kyle. Wanna teach me to shuck oysters?”
“Tonight, but I need help getting them.”
“No problem. Garret going?”
“Yeah, I think so.”The boys and I waited near the Rendsland Creek Bridge for low tide. A minus tide of -1.3 was predicted at 9:43 pm. By 6:30 pm, the water receded enough to start. Armed with headlamps, shovels, a bucket, and an oyster knife, it didn’t take long to pick and shuck the 18 count limit. I carried two pint-sized, recycled deli containers and filled them both.
Clam digging was a different story. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, Rendsland Creek is a great oyster beach, but not much of a clam beach. The site wasn’t lying. We dug around in random spots for an hour, finding only a dozen Eastern Soft-shell clams and two cockles. The Eastern soft-shell, as its name suggests, is not native to the Pacific Northwest. The clams are thought to have been inadvertently introduced through purchased oyster seed from eastern growers. I’ve never tried them, and am anxious to see if they taste different than the native little-necks I love.
As promised, I pan-fried cornmeal-dredged oysters, and the three of us enjoyed a great meal. I saved the clams for tomorrow night’s meal. One medium sized Pacific oyster contains 40 calories, 4 grams of fat, 8 carbs, and 16 grams of protein. I ate six! I’ve eaten lots of oysters in my life, and so has Kyle and Garret. It sounds impossible, but we all claimed those were the best oysters ever. I washed them down with a good IPA, and in that magic gastronomical moment, life seemed perfect.