I’ve only started foraging for shellfish around Puget Sound. Eventually I’d like to explore all of the designated harvesting beaches in the area. It gives me yet another reason to get out and paddle, with the added challenge of trying to arrice at my destination at the right time, when beaches are exposed at low tide.
My diet is normally entirely plant-based, but I will eat a small amount of wild foraged shellfish a few times a year. Oysters or mussels are simple organisms that are most likely not sentient and don’t feel pain. Harvesting them also poses very little environmental impact. Because they are filter feeders, oyster farming actually improves water quality. An annual shellfish and seaweed harvesting license costs a little over $16 when you purchase it online. Refer to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Harvest Rules. Mussels can be harvested from salt water year round, up to a limit of 10 lbs/day.
I also always refer to the Shellfish Safety Information site for beach closures due to pollution and biotoxins. Not surprisingly, the areas around Seattle and Tacoma are typically closed to shellfish harvesting due to pollution. Biotoxins such as the one that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) can even occur in the San Juan Islands, despite the much colder water and strong currents. The risk of PSP varies depending on the species. Mussels accumulate the toxin faster than other species, so it acts as a good indicator species. Clams accumulate the toxin at much higher levels and take longer than mussels and oysters to clear the toxin. Concentrations of PSP usually start going down in October and November, but clams can still be toxic an entire year after an algae bloom. This is important to know because some beaches on the Department of Health map appear to be closed (indicated by the red color), but they are actually only closed to clams and are still open for mussels and oysters.
Hope Island is one of my favorite destinations in the South Sound. It has pristine beaches but is easily accessible from Boston Harbor north of Olympia. I discovered yesterday that it is also a good site for finding mussels. Beds of mussels are located on the south east gravel beach right next to the entrance to the park. These are the smaller Foolish mussels (Mytilus trossulus), and only grow to 3 inches long, as compared to the larger California mussels (Mytilus californianus) you find on the coast which grows to 6 inches.
The put-in is the public boat launch at Boston Harbor. The boat ramp is right next to the marina building. There is free parking right next to the boat launch for people with kayaks and canoes, and restrooms with flush toilets across the street in the parking lot. Boston Harbor Marina is a full service marina which includes a grocery store and kayak rental.
The distance to Hope Island is 2.85 nm, 7.11 nm round trip including circumnavigation of the Island.
Before going, check the currents in Dana Passage.