It was just a little past sunrise as I was standing in 53 degree water that was up to the top of my chest waders, with a strong wind blowing and rain starting to come down in a torrent.
I couldn’t help but ask myself again why I was doing this. The answer to that very simple question was equally simple-fresh oysters.
People around the world pay good money for oysters from Cape Cod. The reason being is that the waters of the Cape provide a very good environment in which oysters thrive.
This is something that you can do too. It doesn’t take a whole lot of equipment, and in a short period of time you can get a bucket full that will make your friends both jealous and glad to know you, all at the same time.
So with that being said, why aren’t you out gathering up some of the greatest tasting oysters found anywhere in the world?
Perhaps you haven’t given it much thought; perhaps you don’t know what equipment you need; perhaps you don’t know that you can pretty much find oysters anywhere on the Cape.
The purpose then of this report is to share with you some insights about this fishery and to encourage you to get out and catch some these great tasting mollusks. Whether you like them raw, grilled, fried or in a stew, I hope that the information provided here is of interest, value and benefit.
Rules & Regulations
Before you can eat them, you have to catch them, so let’s start with the basic rules and regulations of shell fishing on Cape Cod.
Click below to toggle some "must know" oystering rules & regulations:
Just about every town on Cape Cod has an oyster season, and each one that does has a different set of rules and regulations regarding when and where you can go shell fishing. Rather than reviewing the specifics of each town’s regulations I suggest that you contact the town on Cape Cod where you plan on oystering, and review their specific rules.
Shell fishing permits
One thing all towns do require is a shell fishing permit. The permit is usually issued to the head of the household and normally all members of the household can use that permit. The catch limit is for the household and not per person. Just about every town allows you to bring friends along to help out but once again you are only allowed to take what the permit allows for the household.
Resident vs. non-resident permits
While every town offers a resident permit not all have non-resident permits and some have yearlong permits, while others allow you to go for a week at a time. Because it is the end of the year and the town where I like to go issues permits that will be expiring on December 31, 2015 I have been getting non-resident week long permits that allow me to go shell fishing anywhere in their waters during a seven day period.
As an fyi, a week long permit in my town for a non-resident costs $20.00. This allows me to get 5 quarts of in the shell oysters during that seven day period. Is five quarts worth the $20.00? The way I figure it five quarts equates to about 6 dozen oysters. So even if I could get oysters for a $1.00 a piece I am still way ahead of the game by spending the $20.00 for the permit.
When you can go
Most of the towns allow you to start oystering at sunrise and require you to stop at sunset or before sunset. I haven’t seen any towns that allow you to go shell fishing at night. Once again check the town’s rules and regs to be sure when you can go. Some of the towns limit the days you can go and others do not, and some have special days for oystering which allow access to areas that have been seeded.
Many towns restrict oystering to when the air temperature is above 29 degrees F. Once again check your town regulations.
The state has a minimum size limit of three inches and all towns adhere to this minimum size.
The next thing you need to have for getting oysters is some basic fundamental equipment.
- Chest waders
A good pair of chest waders is essential. Not only will they help keep you warm and dry, they will also help prevent clam itch, which can cause a poison ivy type rash on some people.
Chest waders can also help get you into deeper water, ahead of others who might be sticking to the shallows. One time I got my limit very quickly out deep, while others in shallow didn’t get any.
- Wet suit jackets and diving gloves
During the fall and winter I would suggest a wet suit jacket and a pair of diving gloves to help keep you dry and warm. With water temps in the 50s or lower, hypothermia could become a factor.
- Floating baskets
A floating basket is good for stowing your oysters, along with a bucket that is measured for the limit you can keep. For example, I put a 5 quart pail inside my basket so I know when I am getting to my limit without any guess work.
Some people use a glass bottom bucket to help them see the oysters, and then use a shelf grabber to pick them up in deeper water. I once saw someone using what appeared to be the bin from their refrigerator to spot the oysters, and also to carry them.
I prefer to use my polarized sunglasses and a long handled clamming rake. Even though I am in amongst the rocks, the rake does a good job of picking up several oysters at a time, compared to just one at a time with the grabber.
You should also have a measuring tool to help ensure that your oysters are legal. Any small oysters should be returned to the water right away.
In shallow waters you don’t need anything other than a good pair of waterproof boots and gloves, as you can pick the oysters right up off the bottom. The clearer the water, the easier they are to find.
Oysters can also be found growing attached to rocks and boulders. At low tide you can usually just break them off the rocks or use a small pick hammer to break them off.
Oysters don’t bury themselves in the sand because they would suffocate if they did. This means you can often walk along in the shallows and just pick them up as they are laying there.
After a strong storm you can sometimes find them along the beaches. The waves will often wash them up onto shore.
Richard Banks (aka “onemoretime”) and his wife Kathleen are longtime members of My Fishing Cape Cod, as well as the Cape Cod Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance and the Nauset Newcomers. The duo enjoys living and fishing on Cape Cod, but they travel and fish around the world too.