Shellfishing

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A visitor holds a blue crab

How would you classify clams, oysters, or mussels? Are they fish? Are they wildlife? According to NPS rules, it depends on where they live. Shellfish (mollusks or crustaceans) that live in saltwater are fish by regulation. Shellfish that live in freshwater are wildlife. Since some are fish and some are wildlife, different rules apply to how park visitors can harvest them.

What is a Mollusk?

Mollusks are a large group of soft-bodied, invertebrate animals, many with hard protective shells, commonly referred to as “shellfish”. Many mollusks are important food sources or provide a source of pearls and other products. There are about 85,000 named species of mollusks and they comprise about 23% of all marine organisms.


closeup of limpets on ship hull
Limpets are a type of mollusk found at National Parks. Check the park regulations to find out if limpets can be harvested at your National Park.

NPS Photo

What is a Crustacean?

The Crustacea are a large group of arthropods; invertebrate animals having an external skeleton, segmented body, and jointed appendages. There are about 67,000 species, most of which are marine species. Many are important food sources, but they also comprise many small species in marine plankton that are an important food source for other animals in the marine ecosystem.

scuba diver holding lobster underwater.
Channel Island's Park Dive Officer, Kelly Moore, with a spiny lobster that thrives under the protection of the Marine Sanctuary. Outside of the sanctuary, lobsters are usually taken before growing to this size.

B. Seymour/ NPS Photo

Shellfishing Regulations

The National Park system includes about 40 areas with marine waters, many of which allow the harvest of shellfish. Shellfishing regulations are necessary to conserve shellfish for future generations of visitors and to ensure they are maintained as components of healthy marine ecosystems. Because conditions and species vary from park to park so do the regulations.

Know before you go:

  1. Visit the Fishing Regulations page and use the map to find the most up to date shellfish regulations for your park.

  2. Freshwater mollusks cannot be harvested in national parks, unless a park has a specific regulation that allows it.

  3. Harvest of shellfish in parks with marine waters is allowed under National Park Service General Regulations, unless the park has modified its regulations.

  4. Most ocean and coastal parks have adopted the same rules as the state that the park is located in.

  5. Contact the park if you are unsure about the fishing regulations that apply.

Shellfishing in National Parks

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    Last updated: May 9, 2018

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