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Westport Expert Encourages Shellfishers To Rake In Tasty Treats

Rindy Higgins, right, chair, Westport Shellfish Commission, talks to Westport residents about their shellfishing opportunities in Long Island Sound at the Westport Farmers Market.
Rindy Higgins, right, chair, Westport Shellfish Commission, talks to Westport residents about their shellfishing opportunities in Long Island Sound at the Westport Farmers Market. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

WESTPORT, Conn. — Are you a fan of oysters, clams and other briny bivalves?

Did you know the waters off Fairfield County shoreline communities are teeming with the succulent little gems and they’re yours for the taking?

“Well, you do need a permit,” said Rindy Higgins, who set up a table Thursday at the Westport Farmers Market to teach local shellfish lovers how to harvest their favorites not far from home.

Six Fairfield County communities allow shellfishing for home use -- Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk and Fairfield. Most charge between $15 to $30 for a permit that allows you to harvest oysters, scallops, mussels and a variety of clams, including little necks and razor clams year-round.

“It’s a lost family activity,” said Higgins, chair of the Westport Shellfish Commission. “Now people think the waters are polluted, but, since 1972 and the Clean Water Act, things have been getting better, better, better.”

While Fairfield County residents aren’t likely to find scallops this far west in the Sound, Katie Lund, an assistant with the aquaculture extension program who joined Higgins educational effort Thursday, said clams are typical.

Mussels also can be found by upending rocks or searching through seaweed. Low tide reveals “steamers,” tiny clams that are best harvested with a shovel.

“I think steamers are some of the easiest,” Higgins said. “But they’re quick. You have to move fast.”

Higgins suggested investing in a clam basket rake and a wire bushel bucket or a mesh bag to collect your haul. She also recommends making sure there have been no bed closures before heading out for the day.

Most communities allow permit holders to harvest a quarter- to a half-bushel of any shellfish and many varieties will keep in the fridge for up to 30 days, Higgins said.

Those who aren’t sure they want to commit to shellfishing as a hobby can try it out with a one-day pass in many communities, Higgins said. There are discounts for seniors and those older than 85 usually can obtain a pass for free.

If you want to cross the county line, a Milford shellfishing permit is free for all.

And all that stuff about only harvesting shellfish during months with an R in their names?

“That’s a myth,” Higgins said. “We have people who go out in the winter, summer, all year long.”

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