Harvest shellfish safely
The shellfish you harvest and eat should always come from an open fishing area. It is your responsibility to check with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to find out if an area is open before fishing. When an area is officially “closed,” it is both illegal and unsafe to harvest shellfish from that area.
What's the risk?
Eating contaminated shellfish can make you very sick. It can even be life threatening. Cooking shellfish does not destroy all biotoxins.
Bivalve shellfish have two hinged shells and include clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, and cockles. Because they feed by filtering microscopic plankton from the water, changes in water quality can cause unsafe marine biotoxins, bacteria, or viruses to build up in their tissue. Other shellfish like whelks (large snails) and periwinkles can also accumulate toxins and pollutants.
Learn more about shellfish poisoning and other serious illnesses from eating unsafe shellfish.
How do I know if an area is open?
Because of the risk of contamination, you are not allowed to harvest shellfish less than 125 metres (410 feet) from a wharf, aquaculture operation (like salmon growing cages), or floating accommodation (like a float home).
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) must sometimes close certain areas to shellfish harvesting. This can be for conservation or public health reasons, especially during the hot summer months. Generally, signs are posted at closed locations, and public notices are placed in newspapers and on radio. But your best bet is to call your local DFO office, or check this website for closures in your region.
What else can I do to protect myself and my family?
It is important to harvest, store, handle, and prepare shellfish carefully to help prevent illness. Follow these safety tips:
- Bivalve shellfish should only be harvested at the water's edge when the tide is going out.
- Shellfish should be iced, refrigerated, or frozen immediately after harvest or purchase and during transport, until they're ready to be eaten.
- Buy shellfish only from trusted retailers and restaurants who can confirm the source of the shellfish, and that they were harvested from an open area.
- Make sure any shellfish you prepare for eating is fresh. Fresh shellfish should have tightly closed shells or should close their shells when you tap them.
- Read Health Canada's Shellfish Food Safety fact sheet for more tips on storing, handling, and cooking shellfish safely.
Did you know?
Shellfish harvesting and processing in Canada is monitored under one of the most comprehensive shellfish inspection programs in the world – the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program.
Shellfish harvesting is regulated to protect valuable shellfish resources and ensure conservation. Harvesters should keep these rules in mind:
- To harvest shellfish recreationally, you generally need a sport fishing licence.
- Use manual tools only for recreational harvesting.
- The species and daily catch limits permitted vary by area.
- Contact your local DFO office to find out the rules in force in your area.
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