Assistant Steve Schultz continues digging a shallow burrow started by John Fitch at Atascadero Beach during a clam census.
January 10, 1974
The Pismo Clam is a part of the identity of Pismo Beach but the bivalve’s historic range is from Half Moon Bay to Baja California.
It was an important part of the area’s Native American diet. As reported in a previous post, the clam was so common it could be found with bare toes by spinning in the sand. European settlers used horse drawn rakes to unearth clams by the thousands to feed pigs and chickens. As a result the Pismo clam became the first California mollusk to be regulated. In 1911 a daily limit of 200 clams was set and minimum size limits were established.
By the 1970′s scientific studies were showing man had a significant impact on clam populations.
John Fitch was a marine biologist studying clams at Morro Bay’s Atascadero Beach. An unusually large spawning of clams in 1972 gave the biologist reason to be optimistic but they would take five years to reach the four-and-a-half inch minimum legal size.
Quoting the story by Bruce Kyse,
Fitch is worried that at this stage of their life, the clams are susceptible to clammer’s forks. He said there is a 65 per cent mortality rate for young clams along beaches open to clammers.”
That means out of every 1,000 clams, 650 will die either from breakage by clam forks or natural causes or they will be taken before they reach legal size,” he said.
If clammers can be eliminated, Fitch said the mortality rate is cut to about 30 per cent. “Eliminate us humans and there is a good chance this beach will have a beautiful batch of clams,” he said.
Soon the resurgent otter population would put added pressure on the mollusks and the human pastime of clamming then imploded. Pismo Beach no longer advertises itself as the Clam Capital of California but as Classic California.
Environment reporter David Sneed reports on the most current clam study in the Tribune with photos by Joe Johnston.
Wayne Nicholls made the 1974 photos.