Foraging Wild Ocean Seafood

From fish to clams to crabs, foraging for wild ocean seafood is easy, fun, and nourishing.

| March/April 1972

Scrounging for wild ocean seafood — everything from clams and mussels to crabs for bait, cat food, and fertilizer — is both easy and fun, and the booty can be mouthwateringly delectable. One of my favorite crannies for practicing the art is a small cove in Maine. The inlet is ringed with red granite boulders, quiet pine forests, low heaths and dark bogs and contains bits of masts, hand-hewn beams, ribs and other weathered remnants of an eighteenth-century merchant shipwreck.

I'm told that — although the ship's passengers managed to get ashore safely when the vessel ran aground — many of them then slowly starved to death. Not because there was no food available, but because the passengers were unable to recognize and harvest that food. They needn't have perished. I know, because I personally have taken clams, crabs, fish, huckleberries, cranberries, and rose hips from that same cove. I've also noted an ancient Indian trash pile there that contains an unbelievable number of clam shells. It stands to reason that wild foods, abundantly available both before and after the ship's disaster, must have filled the bay just as profusely at the time of the wreck.

Of course, this one little inlet has not been unusually blessed with free-for-the-gathering fare. Most coves, estuaries, and bays along the coasts of every large body of water in the world seem, in their natural state, to teem with edible life. It's not necessary to have power boats and super-double-whammy fishing rigs to harvest that bounty either: simple nets and poles are the most complicated tools you'll need to practice the art of the sea scrounge. The following general guide should get you started.

How to Be a Sea Scrounge

First, let me remind you that just as you don't pick any old weed or mushroom for your table, you don't pick any old clam or fish to eat, either. And never, never, NEVER cook or eat any shellfish that are dead when you find them. If the mollusk doesn't resist your efforts to open his shell, or if the shell is broken, don't take any chances with food poisoning. Keep your eyes open when choosing a scrounging spot and follow these rules:

(1) AVOID POLLUTED AREAS. Diseases found in human waste, such as typhoid and hepatitis, can be carried by shellfish. Public health boards try to keep polluted beds posted with warning signs, but signs have a way of disappearing. Check before you take any shellfish.

Unposted pollution is another problem. Use your own judgment, but I never scrounge near heavily traveled highways or boat marinas where lead from exhaust fumes is sure to have drifted onto the land and water. I stay far away from any industrial plant that dumps mercury or other chemical wastes, and I avoid areas where crops are treated with herbicides and pesticides that wash off the land and into the sea. Steer clear of oil slicks too, unless you happen to crave wild foods that taste of petroleum.

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