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Recreational clamming could return to Pismo Beach; poachers and beachgoers may stop that progress

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Although it is currently legal to harvest clams recreationally, almost no legal-sized clams have been found in recent years

Pismo clams are starting to show up in numbers not seen in decades on their namesake beach, Pismo Beach. While the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) is optimistic about the potential bright future of recreational fishery, they warn we aren’t there yet.

Pismo clam populations are booming along Central Coast Beaches after decades of decline, but CDFW Marine Environmental Scientist Derek Stein said these clams are far too young and small to legally harvest. 

“Since the 90’s," Stein said, "there hasn’t been a legal clam on Pismo Beach found.”

Pismo clams were once prolific along Central Coast beaches, supporting a vibrant recreational fishery. 

“You see old historical photos of just these old cars on the beach," Stein said. "And people taking just mounds of clams.”

Stein said due to overharvest, illegal removals and other environmental conditions, the fishery has not rebounded to that level. He’s hopeful these young clams can change that.

“I think next year, or the next two to three years," Stein said. "I think there is a chance for sure that the fishery could come back to Pismo Beach.”

Right now, the CDFW is focusing their efforts in catching poachers and educating beachgoers to help restore the clams to historic abundance.

Since last July, CDFW officers have seized more than 25,000 clams and have issued 250 citations throughout San Luis Obispo County.

But Stein said it’s not just poachers who are hurting the clams' chances of reaching legal harvest size. 

“Kids are finding pismo clams just digging in the sand, they are just innocently digging," Stein said. "But they will find them, and play with them, and put them in their sand castles, not even knowing that they shouldn’t be taking pismo clams, they should be reburying them.”

Stein said if you come across a Pismo clam, rebury them so seagulls can't get to them. But he also thinks it’s only a matter of time before a legal 4 ½ inch clam washes up in Pismo Beach.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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