Harvesting a Dungeness crab from its trap

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Foraging for Seafood in Tofino and on Vancouver Island

Fishing for, digging for and picking up crustaceans and other marine invertebrates is legal and rarely dangerous. Fishing for fin fish like coho salmon can be fun and productive, especially through August when they are abundant close to shore. If you read this and think “Foraging sounds fun… but it also sounds like a lot of work,” skip the hassles of foraging for seafood and pick up your fresh catch at one of these restaurants.

Fishing boat near Tofino

A commercial fishing vessel works the water near Tofino. Wildside Grill.

Important Notes Before you Forage:

Check the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans office (DFO: 161 First Street at Campbell, 250-725-3500) for permission, limits, licensing requirements and edibility when harvesting your own seafood:

  1. Make sure you have whatever permit is required.
  2. Inform yourself if you could be in a shellfish harvesting region that has been flagged with Red Tide (see below for more on dangerous Red Tide).
  3. Understand that there are catch limits for each species of fin fish and shellfish and it is irresponsible and illegal to harvest more than the legal limit. The legal limits are printed in the free guide that you should pick up when you purchase your fishing license. You can also research limits at this DFO website.

Purchasing a Fishing License

(Yes, you need this for shellfish, too!)

British Columbia separates the licensing of saltwater and freshwater fishing. Obviously, lake and river fishing requires a freshwater license. Fishing in the Pacific and harvesting shellfish requires a saltwater fishing license (also called a Tidal Water license).

Freshwater fishing licenses are only available for purchase online:www.fishing.gov.bc.ca

Saltwater fishing licenses are available online here and at the following locations in Tofino:

Co-op Hardware Store

121 First Street (at Main Street), 250-725-3436

Tofino Fishing Fly and Tackle Shop

561 Campbell Street, 888-534-7422 or 250-725-2700,www.tofinofishing.com

Method Marine

380 Main Street on the pier, 250-725-3251,www.methodmarine.ca

Check for Red Tide before Harvesting Shellfish

Red Tide is a colloquialism for naturally occurring algal blooms that are poisonous to humans in high doses. Shellfish absorb the algae in high concentrations, so it is very dangerous and potentially fatal to consume shellfish from an area that has a Red Tide. The only way to know if an area is free of Red Tideis to check with authorities. Red Tide can be present in clear, uncoloured water.

Red Tide Closures for the Clayoquot and Tofino area are posted on this DFO website and information is available by phone at DFO's Red Tide Hotline, 866-431-3474.Clayoquot Sound is Area 24. Be warned that the tables and maps on the website may be confusing if you are not familiar with the area, and there is significant risk in trying shellfish without knowing if the area is closed for Red Tide.

Red tide

This photo (above San Diego County -- not Tofino) shows the intense red color that sometimes accompanies a red tide. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Can I eat the Mussels?

YES! Two species of edible mussels can usually be harvested year round as long as you have a license.

The blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) is the smaller species and the California mussel (Mytilus californianus) is the larger – both are delicious.

Generally, mussels can be found on the rocks where there is heavy surf.

Wait until low tide and then go picking with a paring knife. Choose medium size mussels and only those that are tightly closed. Clean by removing the beard and barnacles with a wire brush.

Double check that you are harvesting mussels in an area free of Red Tide. You must have a valid license to harvest mussels. See above for more information about Red Tide and licensing.

Eating blue mussels after harvest

How about a picnic lunch of freshly harvested blue mussels with lemon and pesto?

Where can I find Clams near Tofino?

Although many different species of clams can be found at most beaches, they are most abundant on sandy or pebbly beaches near the tidal mudflats where there is a mix of fresh and salt water.

Popular clamming spots are found on the tidal flats around Meares Island, although these are not easy to access.

On any beach, look for the telltale holes in the muck or sand about the diameter of a pencil, and/or for heaps of open clam shells, previously pried open by other dextrous mammals. With one quick scoop of your shovel, dig down about 6 inches, turn over the shovel-full and pick out your clam.

Double check that you are harvesting clams in an area free of Red Tide. You must have a valid license to harvest clams. See above for more information about Red Tide and licensing.

Clams harvested near Tofino

Different color morphs of manila clams (aka: little neck clams); a common clam foraged near Tofino.

Finding Oysters near Tofino

We have plenty of oysters in the area, but they are generally difficult for visitors to harvest. Don't worry if you can't find any, as Tofino's restaurants serve them in every way imaginable: deep fried, baked, barbequed and of course raw on the half shell.

If the idea of slurping oysters is making you hungry, check out the annual Clayoquot Oyster Festival here in Tofino every November.

Lemmens Inlet is a commercial oyster growing area, with about a half dozen oyster farms, but harvesting oysters from farms without permission is of course illegal.

There are a few places in the Tofino area where oysters can be gathered on rocky shorelines, but finding these areas is difficult and requires boat access. If you do happen upon some oysters, make sure that they are the non-native Pacific oysters, because the native Olympia oysters are protected under Canada's Species at Risk Act. Olympia oysters are smaller and rounder than their Japanese cousins, the Pacific oysters. A good rule of thumb is to avoid harvesting oysters less than 6 centimetres in diameter. And do not forget to double check for a Red Tide closure in the area that you are harvesting.

Tofino Oysters on the half shell

In Tofino, Pacific oysters are most often served raw, "on the half shell."

What about live Crabs?

Without contest, Tofino's seafood scene is best known for its Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister). This sumptuously sweet crustacean is available at most restaurants in town from a multi-generational local crab fisherman: Scotty's Live Crab. He's located across from the Gas'N'Go Gas Station. You'll Find his There is a sign on the fence by the driveway that says "LIVE CRAB".

If you are buying live crab in Tofino with plans to cook it at your vacation rental or bed and breakfast, make sure that you have the proper facilities and ventilation to do so. Cooking crab indoors can stink something awful.

Live Crab in Tofino

A Tofino resident shows off his haul of fresh crab that he will keep, thanks to his saltwater fishing license which is required to keep crab. Scroll down to read more about crabbing around Tofino. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Koreski

Ocean Village Resort
Westcoast Aquatic Safaris

Shellfish isn't supposed to be crunchy!

Mussels and clams that soak in cold salt water with a half cup of raw oats overnight become sand free.