Recreational shellfishing in Eastham, Cape Cod

Recreational shellfishing is a very integral part of the Cape Cod way of life. There is a very rich tradition of shellfishing in the estuaries, coves and bays of Cape Cod as a leisure activity for both residents and visitors alike.

On a recent late afternoon hike along the marsh trails close to Hemenway Landing in Eastham, I came across James and Allison harvesting shellfish in the estuary as the tide was going out.

The late afternoon light was gorgeous. After exchanging a few pleasantries, I asked if I could photograph them while they harvested shellfish. Allison and James very graciously agreed. I ran to my car, put on my rubber boots, grabbed my camera, ran back and got into the mud to photograph. Moving around in the soft sinking mud with my camera gear was much harder than I had anticipated. I was amazed at how easily the two of them moved around. After a while my rubber boots got stuck and James had to lend a hand and help me get out. Allison mentioned that having the rake helps in situations like that. Will keep that in mind the next time.

We soon got back on solid ground and marveled at the bounty they had just harvested. Their 10-quart wire basket (that's the weekly limit) was full to the brim with little necks, quahogs, mussels, razor clams and scallops.

James and Allison are both from the Cape, who grew up in Eastham and now live in Brewster. James was ready to go back and put some of the shellfish on the grill for supper. I thanked my new friends for letting me photograph them and bid good bye as they headed back to their vehicle with their harvest from the ocean. They will be back here again next week.

Recreational shellfishing in the Cape is regulated. Permits are available to residents and nonresidents alike in the area towns at the local Natural Resources office or Town Hall. Permits can be annual, seasonal and weekly and can range anywhere from $10 for residents, to $200 for non-residents. Permits generally allow the holder to harvest up to ten quarts of shellfish per week. There is no limit to the number of helpers but the person whose name is on the permit must be present. Also, the permit must be carried while shellfishing. There are also size restrictions for shellfish that can be harvested so it's useful to have a shellfish gauge handy. Shellfish that are too small should be dumped back into the water for another season's harvesting.

The local towns have shellfishing maps to indicate which areas are open for shellfishing. Here's the one for the town of Eastham. It's always a good idea to check since some areas can be closed due to pollution like red tide.