I've actually only foraged for oysters a couple times prior to making this video. The original idea was to just record ourselves gathering oysters but it turned out to look more like a public service announcement. I'm certainly no foraging expert and can barely shuck an oyster to save my life, although through the magic of video editing, we make it look easy! So that's where the "for DUMMIES" part of the title came from. More accurately, it probably should have been titled "Harvesting Oysters, by Dummies".
We actually almost scrapped the entire project because were confronted by some locals at Hood Head who told us we weren't supposed to be gathering oysters there. While Katya and I were scraping oysters off the rocks a man approached us and yelled, "Hey, don't you guys know oyster season is over?" I told him that actually it WASN'T over, and that we knew for a fact that this particular beach was open. He said, no, it WAS over, and this beach was closed, and also asked if we had a license. I said that I sure did, and that it was in my pocket. "Well you pull it out and show me where it says on there that this beach is open!" I asked Katya to look up the harvest rules and beach closures on her iPhone, but before she could he just walked away. Later, another man approached us and said, "We told you guys that oyster season is over! You need to put those oysters back right now! It's Jefferson County regulations." I said he was wrong and that he had no idea what he was talking about.
We finally pulled up the beach closures on the Department of Fish and Wildlife site and confirmed that oyster season, and specifically this beach, Point Hannon, is open year-round. We walked over to these two guys to where they had planted clam seed that morning. The man I approached refused to look at the information. "I don't need to look at no computer!" He yelled. "I haven't been on the internet my whole life anyway."
When he saw Katya pointing her camera at him he yelled at her to stop. She did immediately when it looked like he was going to throw a bucket at her.
They declined to be interviewed on camera (to put it mildly). The other man said that they owned property on this beach and had taken great care to ensure the health of the shellfish here and in fact were planting clam seed at the time. "I have watched the public rape and pillage this beach," he said.
"You mean by harvesting shellfish?" I asked, and he said, "Yes." He said that because of all the effort they had put into protecting and maintaining the beach, "We basically own this beach."
Oh, OK. I think I get it now. You guys don't want people to harvest on a publicly-owned beach, because they take all the shellfish away. But it's OK for YOU to do it.
After some discussion, he basically admitted that it was a public beach, and that they tell people that it is closed to keep them from "raping and pillaging" it. So they can save the shellfish -- for themselves! Later he said he had no beef with us, because we were just doing our best to follow the rules, unlike a lot of other people. I also found it very interesting that he recommended we go foraging on the other side of Hood Head where there are some very good oyster beds -- on tidelands that I know for sure are privately owned.
I tell this story as a warning. You need to know which tidelands are public and which is private. You need to know exactly where the boundaries are. Public tide land only includes the beach below the high mean water line. Local fishermen and waterfront property owners will challenge you, ask to see your license, and will LIE to you about boundaries, the season, and your right to harvest in any particular area or time to protect their own interests. Be prepared to defend yourself from aggressive locals by having the right information.
These confrontations really raise the whole issue of private ownership versus public access to waterfront land. All tidelands in Washington State used to be public. Between 1889 and 1890 the Washington State legislature authorized the sale of public tidelands to private individuals to raise revenue. Sixty percent of Washington's public beaches were sold before the practice was discontinued in 1971. Now, Washington State actually is one of the most restrictive states in the country when it comes to access to public beaches. In Texas, for instance, public access to all Gulf Coast beaches is not just the law, it is a constitutional right. Cities and counties along the coast are required to adopt laws to protect the public's beach access rights. There are actually 1,300 miles of public beach in Washington State, but you can only get to much of it by boat, because it is entirely surrounded by private property.
It's true that if everyone went out and harvested shellfish without limit, the stocks of wild shellfish would be rapidly depleted. But private property owners like to use this argument to limit public access and keep the privilege of harvesting for themselves.