Shellfishing On Thurston County Beaches

olympia shellfishingBy: Stacy Fisher

It’s cold, dreary and wet outside… our family is headed to the beach!  How lucky we are to live in Washington (really).  Unlike Oregon and California, with a license, rake and a bucket you can head to our public beaches and forage for wild oysters.  Similar to growing your own vegetables, shellfish just doesn’t taste better than when you hunt for it and eat it with the Puget Sound waters over your shoulder.

Although the thought of heading out to a local beach to forage for food may sound a bit intimidating, finding many types of clams and oysters is ridiculously easy.  It’s much harder deciding on a recipe for your little bi-valves.  You can grab a license at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) website, double check that your beach is open, and head out with your tide book and gear.  This is the northwest, after all, so good raingear as well as some sturdy boots are key.  A bucket and a shovel or rake would also be handy.

Like the poet Leon-Paul Fargue said, eating oysters is “like kissing the sea on the lips.”  The cold months are prime time to be feasting on local oysters.  Your license allows you to harvest 18 oysters per day.  Look for ones that measure at least 2 ½ inches long, and you will most likely find Pacific oysters in our estuaries.  The best part of harvesting oysters is the relative ease of finding them.  Opening or shucking them, on the other hand, takes a bit more practice.  I have always preferred to eat these briny beasts raw – but the larger ones give me a good excuse to try a new recipe or plop them on the bbq.  Remember to shuck and leave the shells on the beach where they were harvested.  This keeps any critters hanging onto the outside of the shells from traveling to other beaches and oysters shells are the best setting surfaces for new oyster seed.

There are many different clams on our beaches, and some take a good deal of work to find.  The Manila clams and littleneck clams are good ones to start with.  Manila clams have short siphons and are found just an inch or two below the sand, while the littlenecks are a little deeper, usually three or four inches beneath the surface.  It can be muddy work getting to these clams, but they are worth the effort.  A license allows you to harvest 40 clams…that’s a lot of chowder!

Some of our closest local public beaches that provide access to wild clams and oysters are listed below.  Updated information is always available on WDFW’s toll-free Shellfish Hotline at (866) 880-5431 and or at  Happy foraging.


olympia shellfishingFrye Cove Park:

Location:  4000 NW 61st Ave, Olympia WA 98502

Harvest Season:  Clams & Oysters Open January 1st through May 15th

Beach Notes:  Look to the south end of the beach for native littleneck clams and Manila clams.  The best spots for clam digging are in the mid-high tidal zone in the sandy gravel.  You may also be able to find Eastern softshell clams, butter clams, horse clams and large Macoma clams on the beach.  During low tide, and with luck on your side, you may even grab a geoduck.  Try the north end of the beach for your oysters.


Tolmie State Park:

Location:  7730 61st Ave NE, Olympia WA 98506

Harvest Season:  Clams & Oysters Open all year

Beach Notes:  There are some oysters on this beach, and you really have to search to find the clams.


olympia shellfishingOyster Reserves of Oakland Bay:

Location:  From Highway 101 take the Wallace-Kneeland Blvd exit, and follow for 5.7 miles (Wallace-Kneeland Blvd turns into Johns Prairie Rd and then joins Highway 3) to the WDFW public access parking lot. Watch for the “Public Fishing” sign at the entrance to the parking lot.  A short trail, bordering the golf course, leads to the beach.

Harvest Seasons:  Clams & Oysters Open all year

Beach Notes:  This is a great beach for oyster hunting.  Manila clams live in the gravelly muddy beach and can be easily harvested at higher tide heights.  This beach is muddy enough, so try and stay out of the sticky black stuff at low tide.  Eastern softshell clams can also be found here.


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