Beach Watchers help shellfish eaters go digging for dinner
June 25, 2008 · Updated 8:51 PM
Eugene Thrasher is a bivalve lover. Specifically, he loves clams. Big, small, brown-shelled, white-shelled, hard to find and abundant theyre all his friends, or at least frequent dinner dates.
He loves digging for his dinner and as a guide for the Island County/WSU Beach Watchers Adventures in Nature series class digging for dinner he shares his love for bivalves with anyone whose shells are open to it.
Last week, he was in Freeland Park lugging a large plastic tote toward the picnic area. Eighteen people were trailing behind on this slightly overcast day with light wind, drooling over the possibilities of harvesting their own shellfish.
Or at least, digging some other day. Lesson number one in this guided tour by Thrasher was knowing which beaches are open for shellfish harvesting. Freeland Beach had been closed for weeks thered be talk of digging but none done.
Thrasher teaches people about different shellfish, shows them how to dig, what not to dig for, what to remember to bring, what licenses are required, what to leave at home and what steps not to forget.
I want my grandkids to be able to do this, Thrasher said of his push for wise harvesting.
Before you head anywhere, Thrasher said, call the Department of Health Marine Biotoxine Hotline at 800-562-5632. Lengthy name aside, number is any shellfish harvesters potentially lifesaving resource to avoid beaches that have been closed to harvesting due to bacteria, biotoxins, viruses or chemicals.
But before he got too far into regulations, he a gave a tease of the prize at stake. Bag after bag, box after box, Thrasher opened his treasure chest devoted to clams, oysters, and other tastey seaside creatures to show the group shell examples of shellfish he had enjoyed over the years.
He talked about how to identify the varieties, the taste and texture pros and cons, and some of the best beaches to locate them all. He tossed around names like Cherry stone, also called the Pacific little neck; Manilas, referred to many as steamers; and butter clams.
The longer the neck, the more it has to travel to the surface and work out to become tough, he shared. The shorter the neck, the more tender the meat, Thrasher believes.
He asked the group why the shells of a certain species of clams are few and far between on Whidbey beaches.
Their shells are edible? someone asks, later learning the species simply prefers other waters.
Thrasher dug into the topic of tools shovels of different sizes and shapes, buckets, mesh bags, tubes and how knowing which tools to match with which clam can make the difference.
You definitely wouldnt go after a geoduck with this, he said holding up a small garden tool.
Thrasher also teaches people they have to know which way your creatures like to dig.
Otherwise you can dig right into them and break them in half, he said. If you know that a geoduck will want to head back a certain direction you can cut him off at the pass.
Little known fact: a bucket can be a safety tool.
Ive seen people out on the beach who start to get sucked in by the sand and the fire department has to be called because theyre trapped, Thrasher said. You can use your buckets wide base to get leverage and pull your foot out.
And roughly knowing shellfish harvesting rules isnt enough, as Thrasher demonstrated during a talk and visual display on daily harvesting limits.
Ten pounds or 40 clams, he said.
Not knowing the limits and not following them can lead to serious fines and no clams for the future, he said.
As he showed bags with a harvest sample of various species, the group was surprised.
It was new to learn the volume that was allowed to be harvested, said Kim Larsen of Bayview. It was also surprising to hear the lengths people will go to stretch those limits.
Larsen came to the talk with her husband Rob Wickman, and the couples two daughters. As mom and dad listened to Thrasher talk of identifying creatures under sand by the shape of the holes they make above, the two blonde girls look around on their own.
See that, its probably a shrimp. That one looks like a horse clam and the smaller ones could be Manilas.
A nearby pool catches one of the girls attention, and Thrasher stops the group to visit the shallow pool filled with shells.
Thats what you get when people improperly place clams back and dont know how to recover their digging, he said. See all the silt that has built up and suffocated everything.
Choy-gee Chu of Greenbank, a math teacher at Olympic View Middle School in Mukilteo, came to gather information she could pass along to her students.
Shes a self-described animal identification freak.
If you know whats there you can help preserve it, she said
As a former resident of Florida and New York, the ability to compare East coast and West coast sealife is an added bonus.
There has to be a sensitivity for the beach, Chu said. Just walking on the surface you see life, so we have to be aware of what we do to the environment and how it affects the life below also.