Pismo Clams

Q: I read reports of events on Pismo Beach where hundreds or thousands of clams are becoming unburied. How often is this happening and what is the cause?

Three clams on a beach.

Three clams on a beach. (California Department of Fish and Wildlife)

A: In the past, it was relatively uncommon for clams to become unburied at Central Coast beaches and in the Monterey area. However, this year we’ve seen more events where hundreds, if not thousands, of clams have unburied.

Some of these clams perish from drying out in the sun or being eaten by birds, but many rebury and survive, according to reports from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The smaller clams seem to unbury more easily, but they also rebury easier than the bigger ones.

The local population of Pismo clams is the highest it’s been in decades, so it is possible clams are being observed unburied simply because there are more of them.

We don’t yet have a clear understanding of why this is happening. This summer, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the California Department of Public Health tested the Pismo clam population for diseases, parasites, paralytic shellfish poisoning and domoic acid levels. The results did not show that any of these factors likely contributed to clams unburying.

Cal Poly is keeping an eye on the unburied clams and may do further testing. CDFW will continue working to conserve Pismo clams and provide support to Cal Poly and partner agencies.

Regulations for Pismo clams can be found in California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 14, section 29.40.

Pismo clams can be harvested with a valid fishing license. Anglers may retain 10 Pismo clams per day if the clams meet the minimum size of five inches in greatest diameter north of the San Luis Obispo/Monterey county line, and four-and-a-half inches south of the county line.

Note that almost no legal-sized clams can currently be found in the Pismo Beach area. All undersized clams must be immediately reburied in the area where they were found. In Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, the season for Pismo clams starts Sept. 1 and ends after April 30. In all other counties, the season is open year-round.

As Pismo clams recover from a decades-long population decline, only a small percentage have reached legal harvest size, with almost all clams found being too small to harvest. Wildlife officers have issued hundreds of citations for possession of undersized clams and seized thousands of undersized clams in the past few years. Pismo clam poaching can be reported via CalTIP.

More information is available on CDFW’s Invertebrates of Interest webpage. Additionally, the San Luis Obispo Coast District offers an overview video on the Pismo Clam population, including instructions for reburying clams.

Big Game

Q: Is it illegal to intentionally feed big game?

A: Yes. CCR, Title 14, section 251.3 prohibits knowingly feeding big game mammals. Big game is defined in CCR, Title 14, section 350 as the following: deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, wild pig (feral pigs, European wild pigs and their hybrids), black bear, and Nelson bighorn sheep in certain areas as defined in California Fish and Game Code, section 4902(b).

Gray Wolves

Q: How can I tell the difference between a coyote and a gray wolf, and what should I do if I see a gray wolf?

A: Gray wolves are native to California, and until very recently, had not been present in the state since the 1920s. With the recent expansion of this large carnivore in the western United States, gray wolves are recolonizing California.

This species is wide-ranging and as a habitat generalist can be found in many different habitats. Currently, gray wolves are known in the northernmost parts of the state (southern Cascades and Modoc Plateau areas).

Here are the differences in physical characteristics between coyotes and gray wolves:

Coyotes are shorter, sleeker and lighter on their feet. They typically weigh 15-45 pounds and stand at a shoulder height of about one-and-a-half feet. They typically have a long and pointed snout, as well as long and pointed ears.

Gray wolves are larger, bulkier and stout. They typically weigh 70-130 pounds and stand at a shoulder height of two-and-a-half feet. They typically have a large and blocky snout, and short and rounded ears.

To report wolf activity or sightings, contact CDFW at 530-225-2300 or fill out a sighting report on our website. You can also email californiawolfsightings@wildlife.ca.gov.

More information on distinguishing between wolves and coyotes is available on CDFW’s gray wolf webpage.