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For many Canadians, harvesting clams, oysters, and other shellfish is a cherished tradition. Shellfish harvesting is a great way to enjoy Canada’s beautiful coastal areas and shellfish are an excellent source of protein, are high in essential minerals, and low in calories, fat and cholesterol.
However, before you head to the beach, check first to ensure the area is open and safe for shellfish harvesting. Clams, oysters, scallops, mussels and cockles – that is, bivalve shellfish – are sensitive to water quality. If the water is contaminated with bacteria, toxic algae or chemical pollutants, these substances and micro-organisms can accumulate in the flesh of shellfish, potentially making them hazardous, and, in rare cases, fatal, to eat. Other shellfish, such as whelks (large snails), can also accumulate toxins and pollutants.
Before harvesting shellfish, check with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to find out which shellfish areas are open in your region. Although DFO informs the public about shellfish area closures through public notices via radio, newspapers, and signage at closed areas, you could miss this important information. Your best bet is to visit DFO’s regional web sites or, if your region is not listed below, call your local DFO office listed in the blue pages of the phone book.