Horse clams are one of the more larger shellfish found on Puget Sound and Hood Canal beaches (Photo submitted by Shane Kempf)

Head to the many public beaches of Washington and discover the joys of shellfish gathering

In the second of a four-part series on shellfish we’ll dig into butter and horse clams that can be found on public tidelands in Puget Sound, Hood Canal as well as best practices for gathering and eating clams

Butter clams are another shellfish found along Puget Sound and Hood Canal beaches.

Butter clams

Many people pursue butter clams for their large size and sweet, mild meat. Butters are usually harvested at 3–4 inches across the longest part of the shell but may grow as large as 6 inches. Minimum legal size is 1 ½ inches (38mm) across the longest part of the shell. Butter clam harvesters should carry a scale into the field to ensure they do not exceed the daily limit of up to 40 clams, not to exceed 10 pounds in the shell. With larger butters, harvesters are likely to achieve 10 pounds with 18–22 clams. Butters usually live deeper in the beach substrate and start at lower beach tidal elevations, closer to low tide lines.

A happy digger shows off a pair of horse clams. (Photo submitted by Kristina Wilkening)

Horse clams

There are two species of horse clams in Washington, the fat gaper (Tresus capax) and Pacific gaper (Tresus nuttallii). Both species are covered by the same daily bag limit and can be processed and cooked similarly. Diggers should refer to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regulation pamphlet on specific daily limits for horse clams and other specific rules that apply to horse clams. Broken clams will not survive but are still excellent for harvest. Shells are thin and sharp and usually have a diagnostic brown shellacking around the shell margin called the periostracum.

NEW! Cornucopia of shellfish recipes

We are lucky to live in Washington where you’re able to forage delicious, healthy seafood from publicly owned tidelands.

If you go

Before heading to the beach, be sure to read the first part of our shellfish gathering series where we go over details and helpful information on licenses; regulations; current seasons for various shellfish; water quality and closures; a shellfish safety map; tide charts; gear list; prepping shellfish to eat; and a wide-range of links to a list of resources.

(The shellfish gathering information in this series was written and compiled by Camille Speck, the WDFW Puget Sound Intertidal Bivalve Manager)



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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.