Pismo Beach still celebrates clams — consider its 62th annual Clam Festival last weekend, for example, which drew thousands. But the days are gone when clamming drew tens of thousands to the city’s fine beaches.
Clamming was consistently good from 1949 until 1979, when state Fish and Game officials said the influx of sea otters from Monterey Bay cut clam populations to zero on some parts of Pismo Beach.
In 1964, for example, minus tides in January and June brought out clam hunters in droves.
A front-page story in June that year noted that more than 10,000 men, women and children braved the water to dig for clams along a 10-miles stretch between Pismo Pier and the Oso Flaco area below Oceano. A bait shop operator at the Oceano ramp said there were 2,000 to 2,500 clammers in his area at sun-up. “They really slaughtered the clams,” he said. In January 1965 about 145,000 people swarmed the county’s beaches combing the sand for clams.
In those days extra Fish and Game wardens were brought in from elsewhere in the state to handle the huge crowds.
But by June 1981, none of the beach clammers interviewed by Fish and Game reported finding legal-sized 4-1/2-inch clams.
Articles in The Tribune’s archive from the 1990s stated that the clam made a slight comeback in 1990, only to decline again in 1997.
Even without the clams, however, Pismo Beach continued its festival.
In October 1984, as festival coordinator Lucy Hancock was preparing for the city’s 38th annual event, she told The Tribune that over the years clams came to symbolize abundance. The Chumash Indians used to trade them as money, she said.
“If we cannot offer the abundance of clams, we can offer the abundance of our oceans,’’ Hancock said, adding that the festival celebrates “the abundance of this area’’ — and Pismo Beach’s position as a beach town second to none.
The writing from the 1960′s had a little different flavor.
From January 16, 1965:
The world-famous Pismo Clam will be the target for the multitude of hunters armed with forks who will probe the sands in search of the succulent bivalve mollusks.
This is from a front-page story from June 11, 1964:
OCEANO – C’mon in! The water’s cold and the clamming is great!
That seems to be the word today along the South County coast where more than 10,000 men, women and children braved the water along the 10 miles from Pismo Pier to the Oso Flaco area below Oceano.
Raymond W. Westberg, Pismo Beach State Park superintendent, said that a car count of persons was made at the three entrances to the beach at Pismo Beach, Grand Avenue and the Oceano ramp.
Bill Lovern, bait shop operator at the Oceano ramp, said there were 2,000 to 2,5000 clammers in his area at sun-up.
“They really slaughtered the clams,” he said.
Extra state fish and game wardens were brought in from other parts of the state to handle the huge crowds combing the area’s beaches for clams. Last January, when more than 150,000 persons swarmed to the county’s beaches, only five wardens were available for duty.
So many clammers invaded county beaches last January that the area supply of fishing licenses was depleted and wardens were unable to enforce licensing laws.
But this isn’t the case this week, and the public is reminded that all licenses expired last week.
Pacific Telephone Co. has added extra operators to handle the many calls from this county. Last year the local office was swamped with calls and had difficulty handling them all. Extra pay telephones have been set up near the beaches to ease some of the load.
The effect on the clam population itself is devastating. Fish and Game officials last year said that more than a million clams were taken from the county’s beaches and that clamming would “probably never fully recover” from the onslaught.