Harvesting Local Mussels
When I go to Coal Oil Point I always see a lot of tasty-lookin’ mussels. Can I harvest/eat those?
Coal Oil Point is a Marine Protected Area, so you can’t harvest those particular mussels, or take anything else away from that site. However, there are other local areas where you can harvest mussels when it’s safe to eat them. Because mussels are filter feeders, they collect detritus from the water, so unless you want to eat that detritus yourself, avoid harvesting them near sites where humans are dumping anything, or the outflow of any watershed after a storm.
Government agencies monitor levels of toxic dinoflagellates and other contaminants in the water to determine when mussels are likely to pose a major health risk. You should check with the California Department of Public Health to make sure you’re not collecting during the annual mussel quarantine, which is typically from about May through October but can vary. Read more about that here: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CEH/DRSEM/Pages/EMB/Shellfish/Annual-Mussel-Quarantine.aspx. Paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) can make you really sick, so don’t mess around with unsafe mussels. There have been 36 deaths in California attributed to PSP since 1927. If you see commercial mussels available in the market during the quarantine, it’s because those have been tested (or the area in which they were harvested has been tested) and found to be safe.
You will need a fishing license to collect them: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Fishing
Enjoy your mussels! I think they’re delicious, so I hope they’ll be worth the effort to you.
Paul Valentich-Scott, Curator of Malacology