Eastham, Massachusetts
2500 State Hwy, Eastham, MA 02642
ph: 508.240.5900
Frequently Asked Questions
But you were afraid to ask....

What do I need to go shellfishing ?

All shellfishing requires a permit from the Town in which you will be harvesting.  In addition, certain tools will make the harvest more rewarding.  For quahogs (hard shell clams) a long handled tool with curved tines at the base (with or without a basket) will allow the digger to stand and scratch the surface to a depth of six inches which is where the animals are to be found.  For Steamer clams (soft shell) the tool is a short handled hoe which has tines of about 12 inches in length.  The digger uses this tool to dig a trench about 10 inches deep and uncover the clams.  This tool may also be used for razor clams.  

Oysters, scallops and mussels do not burrow – they live on the surface and may be harvested by hand or using a quahog scratcher.  When searching for these species under water, be mindful of the fact that your activity will likely turn the water muddy -- much of the technique uses the sense of feel.

Be sure to protect your feet with boots or old sneakers – broken shell fragments can inflict a serious cut.  Hat, insect repellant and sunscreen are also recommended.


Where can I go shellfishing ?

Most of the Town’s shellfishing areas are open seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset.  The exceptions are Salt Pond (open on Sundays only )and several tidal creeks as follows:

        Rock Harbor Creek
        Boat Meadow Creek
        Bee’s River (First Encounter Marsh)
        Hatches Creek
        Abelino’s Creek

These areas are shown on a map of the town.


What will I be able to harvest ?

Generally, quahogs and steamers are available year round along the west (Bay) shore and various locations in Nauset Marsh.  Mussels can be found in the Nauset system.  Scallops are currently in short supply and their harvest is only in the months of October through March.  Oysters are available in Salt Pond on Sundays during the months of November through April.

What’s the difference between a clam and a quahog ?

What’s in a name ?  The Native American name for the hard shell clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) is Quahog (also spelled quahaug, quohog, and others) and the name is unique to the Cape and Islands as well as Rhode Island.  Elsewhere along the East Coast it is referred to as a “clam” Locally, the term “clam” is used to describe the soft shell or steamer clam (Mya arenaria).  Just to confuse matters further, the younger, smallest (barely legal size) quahog is designated Littleneck.  Somewhat larger specimens of the same animal are called Cherrystone.  Both are typically eaten on the half shell.

How much can I take home ?

The limit for a family permit is one ten quart pail per week (including shells) per domiciled family.  Any number of helpers can accompany the family member in whose name the permit is issued.  However, transfer of the permit to another person who is not normally living with the permitee is prohibited.

How about Senior permits ?

Permits are issued to taxpayers who are 65 years of age or older for a reduced fee.  The limit is the same, and the other regulations apply.  Again the person in whose name the permit is issued must be present.

Are they safe to eat ?

The waters from which shellfish may be harvested are tested on a regular basis to insure public safety. This protocol is established by Federal guidelines and is implemented by the Commonwealth.  Should the index exceed the threshold for safety then the area will be closed to harvest and will be posted and patrolled.  Eating raw shellfish may pose potential health risk for some individuals and consumers should be mindful of the potential health effects.  Occasionally, persons may have allergic reaction to eating shellfish.

What about Red Tide ?

Red tide in New England waters is somewhat of a misnomer as it has no discernable red color.  However, the term is used to describe Harmful Alagal Blooms which occur worldwide and which can render shellfish which filter these algae to become toxic to warm blooded animals – such as humans.  Although not perfectly understood, we do know that the most common Red Tide occurs locally in Nauset Marsh during the spring months although not every year.  The algae which is the problem suddenly grows very quickly and since shellfish are filter feeders they consume it, and concentrate a toxic chemical in their tissue.  It does not affect the shellfish, but if a warm blooded animal were to eat the shellfish it has the potential to disrupt the central nervous system functions of heartbeat and breathing.  This phenomenon has evidently been happening for many years and was understood by the Native Americans so there is no clear link to pollution or other environmental degradation.  Testing of the shellfish is done on a weekly basis to insure the safety of harvesters, and the protocol for reopening an area affected by Red Tide is very conservative.  No known instances of Red Tide poisoning have occurred in Eastham although closures have been frequent in the past decade.