The advice below is intended only as a guide. The book “Edible Seashore” by John Wright is an essential companion for anyone intending to collect molluscs (or anything else for that matter) from the shore with a view to eating it.
Eating molluscs collected on the shore definitely brings an element of health risk be it from bacteria (from sewage or agricultural run-off), viruses, algal blooms (which can result in Diarrhoetic Shellfish Poisoning or even Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) or chemical pollution such as heavy metals.
The risks can be dramatically reduced by following a few simple rules:
- Discuss the water quality with the locals – discussions with local fishermen or bait diggers may be useful but the more definitive source will be the Port Health Authority or the Environmental Health Authority. If shellfish are already being harvested commercially a test regime must be implemented and the water quality may therefore be well understood.
- Collect from clean areas – obviously avoid areas that look dubious. This includes areas where the water is obviously dirty, harbours/marinas or where there are obvious inputs through run-off or pipes.
- Don’t collect during months with no ‘r’ – it is well known that some well known species (e.g. Scallops) should not be collected during months which do not contain the letter ‘r’. This is a good general rule to follow for any species. Algal blooms and increased feeding rates increase the likelihood of animals collected during late spring / summer containing harmful bacteria or algal toxins.
- Ensure the animals are alive before cooking – animals should be fresh and alive. For bivalves ensure the animal clamps shut when tapped as proof it is still alive.
- Thoroughly cook any thing collected – cooking is pretty much essential to ensure that any potentially harmful bacteria are killed. After cooking bivalves it is important to ensure that only animals that have opened during cooking are consumed.
Keeping it legal
While access to the shore is not generally a legal right with the UK, there is a common law right to collect shellfish as part of a general right to fish in tidal waters. However, despite this there can be all sorts of other overriding legal restrictions and regulations. These include sites selected for their conservation value where access or collection of mollusc may damage important features or more local byelaws or the existence of private fisheries. Again John Wrights book provides a lot of detail on the various rules and is an invaluable starting