Pismo Beach Clamming

DID YOU KNOW: The last legal-sized clams of at least 4 ½ inches in diameter harvested in Pismo Beach were in 1993. The largest living Pismo Clam on record is 7 3/8 inches, estimated to be 26 years old. The Pismo Clam shell on display at the City of Pismo Beach is 8 inches in diameter!

Pismo Clam Information

The Pismo Clam is one of the largest types of clams found along the California Coast. They are bivalves, which means they have two siphons and a two-halved shell. The clams can grow up to 7 inches, if not interfered with by hungry human clammers or sea otters, who are their natural predators. Clams take approximately 5 years to reach legal size, growing only about 3/4 inch each year. As clams approach 10 years of age, they seldom grow more than 1/8 inch per year. During high tide, the clams are covered with water and can be found a few inches below the wet sand, where they have buried themselves using their digging foot, with their siphon extended to the surface. Water taken in through the incurrent siphon passes over the gills, where diatoms, algae, and plankton are removed and digested. The water is then expelled through the outcurrent siphon, which visitors can sometimes observe squirting out of the sand. A 3-inch clam filters an average of 5,800 gallons of water per year, which only contains approximately 3.88 ounces of food. Thus, clams are very light eaters.

In 1947, Pismo Beach deemed itself the "Clam Capital of the World.”  The Pismo Clam and the Pacific Razor Clam made up most of the catch by clammers. A large influx of clammers and sea otters may have led to the depletion of the Pismo Clam population, which is now gradually rising. Pismo clam populations can fluctuate dramatically due to a variety of natural influences.

California State Law Guidelines and Regulations:

A Pismo Clam’s legal size is 4 ½ inches in diameter, and the proper place to clam is south of Grand Avenue (south of Pismo Beach).  A fragile and valuable resource, Pismo clams may be taken under the following regulations:

  • Clammers must possess a valid California saltwater fishing license and an accurate (rigid) clam measuring device called a “caliper.”
  • Pismo clams must measure at least 4 ½ inches in length to be possessed (kept).
  • Undersized Pismo Clams must be immediately reburied, two inches deep, in the area where dug.
  • Bag limit is 10 Pismo Clams per person per day.
  • Hours of clamming are 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset.

The Pacific Razor Clam can be taken at all times during the year, with a valid fishing license.  There is a limit of 20 Pacific Razor Clams per person. 

How To Clam

Before you clam, you must obtain a saltwater fishing license. As of 2023, the annual fee (365-day license) for a California Department of Fish and Wildlife saltwater license for California residents 16+ is $58.58 ($158.25 for non-residents). A 1-day license is $19.18, and a 2-day license is $29.42. Clamming is permitted year-round. You will also need a clam fork and a measuring device called a “caliper.” Normally the caliper is attached to the clam fork. If you do not use a clam fork, you can use a modified rake, or any utensil that has prongs a foot or so long.  It is a good idea to bring a bucket and fill it with sea water, not fresh water. The clams, once in the bucket, will purge themselves of any impurities and will open slightly. This will allow you to remove them from their shells more easily. If you try to remove them from their shells when they are closed, you will quickly learn where the expression “clam up” came from—they will squeeze their shells tightly closed.

What NOT to do

Do not take undersized clams home—it is against the law and detrimental to the environment. Do not throw clams back into the ocean—this may damage the clam shells and kill the clams. Please follow these instructions to safely rebury the small clams you may find while digging or walking along the ocean.

How to Rebury a Clam

Step 1:

Dig a hole two inches deep in the same location that you found the clam. It’s important that you keep the clam in the same exact place where you found it.

Step 2:

Place the clam in the hole vertically with its hinge ligament (the bump where the two halves connect and it looks as though it has a small bubble) facing upwards and towards the ocean.

Step 3:

Lastly, cover the clam with sand.

Check out this L.A. Times article for more information and photos about Pismo Clams.

Fees and Penalties

Those caught not adhering to any of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife guidelines will be subject to heavy fines (ranging from $100 to $1,000).

(Reduced fishing license fees or no fees are available for Low Income Native Americans and Senior Citizens 65+, Disabled Veterans, Recovering Military Service Members, Blind, Developmentally Disabled, and Mobility Impaired Individuals.) Check the California Department of Fish and Wildfish website for up-to- date information.