There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you’re working a few hours a day and you’ve got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you’re okay.”
~ Mary Oliver

Oregon estuaries have a rich assortment of clams. Some in great abundance, some with great taste, and some are just watching for your shovel.  

Gaps in clams.
The Gaper clam is on the bottom. (Image courtesy of ODFW)

Why go out and harvest? Think clam chowder, fried clams, clam burgers, and more. Clam chowder is an American favorite and was first serve up in the New England area in the 1700s.  

Two species of Tresus gaper clams are found in Oregon: Pacific gaper clam – T. nuttallii and the Fat gaper clam – T.  capax.

Range

Pacific gaper clams range from Baja California north to Kodiak Island. They are the largest common bay clam in Oregon and California.

In Oregon, the shells may measure up to eight inches long, and weigh up to four pounds. In California they can grow up to 10 inches and weigh up to five pounds each.

Mind the Gap

The clams have evolved in such a way that the shell is just a wee bit small. There is just not enough room to totally retrack the large siphon, or neck, in. This creates a gap that cannot completely close.

Both species of Gaper clams and geoduck clams have this problem. The geoducks have larger siphons compared to the Tresus species.

The siphon is one of the reasons this clam thrives. The siphon filters the water for plankton and bits of food during high tide.

It also helps the Gapers avoid many predators as the clam is able to live deep in the substrate (like potentially four feet). In Oregon, the typical depth for finding Gapers is 12 to 16-inches. Trophy-sized catches are found a bit deeper nearer to 30 inches.

These clams are often incidentally taken during harvest along with butter and littleneck clams that live at the same substrate level.   

Shells

Shells are oval and typically are chalky-white or light yellow. The shell may also be darkly stained in a muddy areas. There are patches of brown, leather-like skin on the shell.

The upper shell is whitish with a thin brown membrane coating. It is relatively thin and can be broken during the digging process. Broken clams count towards daily limit. (See Regulations)

The thickest part of the shell is a cavity called a ‘chondrophore.’ In gaper clams, it is very pronounced. As the shell deteriorates, the chondrophore is the last piece to go. It is often polished by sand and surf and found by beach combers.

Annual lines on the chondrophore’s surface are used to age the clam. Gapers grow about one inch per year for the first four years. Growth rate begins to slow after that. They have a life span up to 17 years.

Reproduction

These animals are quite prolific and, depending on the conditions, may reproduce year-around. Young are carried by the water and swim freely until they settle onto the sea floor. They move downward into the sediments.

Where Found and Harvest Tools

Large bay clams are found on firm, sandy or muddy areas. In muddy areas, clammers often use a shovel or shrimp gun. They look for an oblong “show” hole about the size of a quarter. Some use a three-foot PVC pipe about 12-15 inches in diameter to prevent holes from caving in.

They Got Crabs

You may notice a pair of small crabs (Gaper pea crabs, Pinnixa faba) hanging out with the Gaper.  They are ‘room mates’ and the female may live within the mantle cavity. They do not affect the clam as food.

Lucky Us

Gaper clams are great eating and are fun to harvest. Before you go check the Oregon biotoxin hotline at 1-800-448-2474 and read more at https://myodfw.com/articles/shellfish-and-biotoxins and https://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/FoodSafety/Shellfish/Pages/ShellfishClosures.aspx. Always check harvest regulations and requirements.  

NOTE: In certain conditions, you can rebury a Gaper. Leaving it on the surface is a sure death. The Gaper needs the pressure of the surrounding sand to remain intact and maneuver.

Go forth, dig and be Okay!

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Crabbing and Clamming (https://myodfw.com/crabbing-clamming/species/clams and …/species/gapers.html)
–Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Gapers  (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/shellfish/bayclams/about_gapers.asp and bayclams/cleaning_gapers.asp)
–California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (https://cdfwmarine.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/creature-feature-gaper-clams/)
–Sole soups, History of Clam Chowder (https://solesoups.com/2018/02/12/history-clam-chowder)
–Wikipedia, Tresus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tresus)
–Mary Oliver quote (www.azquotes.com/quotes)

Crabbing on the Oregon coast? There’s a good chance that you’ll catch a Dungeness or a Red rock crab, two of the most commonly caught crab species.

In 2016, the Dungeness crab was the highest valued fishery in Oregon’s commercial fishing industry at $51.3 million. Red rock crabs are also commercially harvested but are not valued nearly as much in comparison to the larger Dungeness.

Identification

Dungeness and red rock crabs vary in their size, color, habitat, and behavior.

Dungeness crabs are best identified by looking for their large, white-tipped claws, ten carapace (the hard upper shell) spines, and a red-brown to purple coloration. They can grow to be eight-inches across their backs (or carapace).

Red rock crabs have black-tipped claws, a wide fan-shaped carapace, and are usually a dark red color. They are also a bit smaller than Dungeness crabs, usually measuring in at six inches across the upper shell.

Where Found

Dungeness crabs prefer the sandy and muddy areas of shallow lower estuaries. Even so, they are sometimes found in ocean depths of up to 2,000 feet. Red rock crabs tend to live in rockier habitats with higher salinity rates such as a larger estuary.

Next time you are out crabbing, keep an eye out for these two common crabs and make sure to follow harvesting regulations!

Photos:

http://www.farm-2-market.com/live-dungeness-crabs/

https://www.dfw.state.or.us/mrp/shellfish/crab/about_red_rock.asp

Info:

https://www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/economic_impact.asp

http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cancer_antennarius/

https://myodfw.com/articles/how-crab

It is hard to imagine the familiar Canada goose population in danger. But, in the past, Canada geese were almost wiped out in North America.

The population has rebounded to the point where Canada geese are Oregon’s most familiar bird. For some, they have become Oregon’s most familiar nuisance.

Canada Goose with goslings,
courtesy ODFW.

Not All the Same

There are 11 subspecies of Canada goose that vary in size and color. All have the same long, black neck and white chinstrap. Five of those species are available for harvest (See Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife for permit information.)

Territory & Habitat

Like other swans, ducks and geese, Canada’s are found on every continent and are common to Oregon. They congregate near water, such as reservoirs, lakes, ponds, large rivers, and native wetlands. They have overrun most Eastern native wetlands, including the National Wildlife Refuges created to protect the migratory populations and diversity.

In the past, most Canada Geese migrated to central and southern North America. Now more are resident and live in or near humans year around. The US FWS report that resident birds cause the most problems. Resident and migratory populations have separate breeding ranges and do not typically interbreed.

Diet

Canada Geese are one of the few bird species that can digest grass and primarily eat green vegetation. They also eat aquatic plants and grains, and fish and insects and will pick food off of the street and out of garbage cans.

They have become a serious pest parks, golf courses, farm fields, and airports. Not only can they damage crops but also foul pastures with waste. In addition to farm damage they provoke public nuisance complaints which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) says are increasing every year.

Raising Young

Goslings (or baby geese) are raised near water. Parents lead goslings to water shortly after being born (great photo opportunities!). After just one day the goslings can dive up to 40 feet under water for food. Goslings can dive or swim away to escape predators.

Canada Geese have oily feathers making them well adapted to swimming, floating, and diving.

Adults aggressively protect their young and will attack anything, including humans, that they perceive as a threat. These are large birds that can be up to 20 pounds, stand 30 to 45 inches, and have a wingspan up to 75 inches). Aggressive behavior can include vocalization, hissing, biting, chasing, and more.

When goslings have learned to fly and the parents have finished molting, the whole family will leave the nesting grounds and find more productive feeding areas. This usually occurs in the late summer before massive southward migrations begin.

Conflicts & Solutions

Sometimes these inappropriate feeding areas are near airports. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates there are 240 goose-aircraft collisions annually nationwide. Remember the 2009 US Airways flight 1549 that went down in the Hudson River? It was also traced to migratory birds.

Canada Geese are a protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  A variety of management techniques may help deter the geese. Preventing public feeding, altering habitat, hazing, and other techniques have helped. Evidently, floating a silhouette of a nesting swan will deter the geese from an area.

Want more? See any of the excellent resources below.

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/swans-ducks-and-geese and https://myodfw.com/game-bird-hunting/species/geese)
–All About Birds (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/canada-goose-resident-vs-migratory/)
–American Expedition! (https://forum.americanexpedition.us/canada-goose-information-facts-photos-and-artwork)
–Why do migrating Canada Geese sometimes fly in the “wrong” direction? (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/i-thought-geese-migrated-south-in-the-winter-and-north-in-the-summer-why-did-i-just-see-a-flock-of-canada-geese-flying-in-the-wrong-direction/
–Wikipedia, Canada Goose (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_goose)