"Time and tide wait for no man"

Crowd digging for razor clams. Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife photo

Shells are found on most beaches at the water's edge, at the base of rocks on the shore, or washed up high on the beach. Many shellfish that live in the intertidal zone are commonly found at low tide. The intertidal zone is the area of the beach that is submerged at high tide and exposed at low tide.

But before you set out looking for shells, make sure you understand the tides. You don't want to be caught getting your feet wet! Tide tables, showing times and the tidal heights, are published daily in the newspaper and can be found on the internet. The best time to search for shells is two hours before and after the low tides. The tides may change quickly—never let an incoming tide flood your route back to shore. Also stay aware of breaking waves and the possibility of "rogue" waves that might move or roll logs or wash you off the rocks. Never walk on floating logs.

Warning! DON'T eat the shellfish

Some areas are closed permanently to harvesting due to pollution and other areas may be closed seasonally due to algae blooms or "red tides." Bivalve shellfish are filter feeders that pump large volumes of seawater through their bodies to filter out the tiny organisms that provide their food. These organisms can contain poisons, known as biotoxins, which make the shellfish dangerous to eat. Make sure to check with local fisheries agencies and websites before harvesting any live shellfish.

Shellfish should also not be taken when they are undersized or so scarce that they are considered in danger of disappearing.