Foraging for Mussels on the Oregon Coast
I used to think that all the life within the ocean made it ripple. As if the smooth stroke of a whale’s tale and the flickering movements of krill push waves onto the shore. I still like to imagine it that way, acknowledging all of the life hidden beneath the reflection of blue.
Along the Oregon Coast, the mossy forest makes its way down to the shoreline. Life is everywhere, from eagles nesting in trees to sea lions feeding along the shallows. As whales play elsewhere, the tide recedes, and small pools filled with vibrant green sea anemones and barnacle-speckled mussels emerge. This is what we came for: mussel harvesting.
Using a knife, prying mussels off of the rocks after getting my shellfish license was a fun challenge! Sinewy strands extend from their shell and keep the mussels rooted to the shore and each other. We kept them in a bucket of salt water on our journey back to camp. Sitting beside the fire, simmering the mussels in butter and beer, it wasn’t hard to say how satisfying it was to collect our meal.
Oregon is one of the few places where toxins remain low enough to allow for shellfish consumption. The neurotoxins are produced by algae, which shellfish then retain as they filter through the seawater. Unfortunately, warming ocean temperatures have expanded the areas in which toxic algal blooms occur. Harvesting mussels was bittersweet because who knows how long our coast will be open to doing so.
If you go:
1. Get a license.
2. Check for biotoxin closures.
3. Find a spot with a rocky outcropping, and go during low tide.
4. Bring tools. Dandelion weeders turn out to be great for muscling mussels.
5. Rinse the mussels in fresh saltwater and keep them in water until cooking.
6. Find recipes and enjoy your harvest.