If you plan to harvest shellfish, you will need to follow these licensing and safety precautions.
The brochure Shellfish Safety: Advice for Harvesters is a quick overview of what you need to know to harvest and cook shellfish safely.
Get a license
If you plan on going out on the water or to the beach and want to catch fish or dig for clams you will need a personal fishing license. There are separate licenses for saltwater (tidal water) and freshwater (non-tidal water). You need a tidal water license for harvesting shellfish.
Note that there are limits to the amount, size and species of shellfish you can harvest. Abalone and sturgeon, for example, as well as some other shellfish are protected and cannot be harvested according to the Species at Risk Act.
For more information, see Fisheries & Oceans Canada: Pacific Region.
2Check the site status
Harvest in approved, open areas only. One of the biggest concerns for shellfish are biotoxins that can survive cooking – biotoxins can kill you!
To check the status of sites, see the Shellfish Harvesting Sites Status Map.
Call for 24-hour recordings of notices (contamination closures, commercial orders, recreational notices, Aboriginal fisheries), call the Notification System for the Pacific Region of Fisheries & Oceans Canada:
- Phone: 604-666-2828
- Toll-free: 1-866-431-3474
3Harvest on a receding tide
Harvest shellfish when the tide is going out (a receding tide). The bacteria that is naturally present in shellfish grows rapidly at warmer temperatures, such as when they are exposed to the sun and warm air temperatures. When the shellfish are under water their temperatures are often cooler, and they are pumping water in and out, which clears out bacteria.
4Respect the siteDon't allow your sewage into the harvesting site
What you are at the harvesting site, don’t put your poop in the water – keep shellfish clean for everyone, whether you are on the beach or in a boat. Transport Canada regulations prohibit discharge of raw sewage directly into the water.
For more information, see these Transport Canada posters:
5Keep harvested shellfish cold
If you harvesting oysters for raw consumption, place oysters in a chilled cooler right away. This will prevent the bacteria that is naturally present in the ocean water from multiplying and making you sick. Vibrio parahaemolyticus can be avoided by cooking shellfish
Once you’ve harvested the shellfish put them into a cooler with ice packs to keep the temperature low.
Store your shellfish in the refrigerator and cook them thoroughly.
For more information on keeping shellfish safe, see Fish & Shellfish Safety.
“I don't have to worry about getting sick if I cook the shellfish.”
NO! Biotoxins are NOT destroyed by cooking.
“As long as the tide isn't red it's safe to harvest shellfish.”
NO! Not all toxin-producing plankton are pigmented and some harmful ones won't colour the water.
“If I only eat and harvest oysters in months with a R I should be safe.”
NO! Temperature spikes can happen outside of summer months.