A group of seven seashore explorers met Kirk Lombard at low tide in Pillar Point Harbor on Saturday to learn about what lives in the mud along the beach. Think fleshy innkeeper worms, tactile ghost shrimp and finger-length eels that are always in a hurry.
Lombard is a biologist, fisherman and former Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission observer, and he is also the animated front man for Sea Forager, a San Francisco-based company that educates people about the local ecology, one wet walking tour at a time.
Derek Roberts, of Sacramento, said he signed up for the tour because he wanted to deepen his understanding of the ocean after living and working in the Bay Area.
“I was always struck by how the bay is sort of weirdly overlooked when you live in the Bay Area,” he said. “When you live around the water, I like the idea of having more ways to interact with it.”
As a seal barked insistently in the background, Lombard got down to business, explaining that finding a gaper clam, also called a horse clam, is as easy as stamping your foot in the sand. If water bubbles up or the sand sinks in, it’s likely there’s a little critter below.
“You’re trying to find the tip of the siphon,” said Lombard. “But the clam’s whole body is way down in the hole and it can stretch. The really big ones can stretch up to three feet.”
The group fanned out on the beach, stomping their feet here and there. Elizabeth Baylor, of Palo Alto, followed the instruction with zeal, jumping around like she was playing hopscotch.
Nobody got lucky right away, not even Baylor.
“I guess the clams aren’t ready for their close-ups,” said Lombard.
Then, eureka! Lombard placed a tall cylinder made of 1/8-inch-gauge PVC over the promising spot and pledged to invest at least 10 minutes in digging up the clam. Participant Alex Susuki, of Concord, set a timer. Retrieving gaper clams out of thick mud is hard, messy work, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed. Sometimes you’re forced to cut bait, as it were.
After removing several blobs of mud, Lombard laid face down on the beach and put his entire arm down the hole. Everyone oohed and ahhed when he raised up a gaper clam that was about 6 inches long. Then Jessica Kubo and Patrick Drinkwine, a couple from San Jose, had the honor of shoveling the sand back into the hole because they had a fishing license.
Lombard emphasized the importance of minimizing impact — for example, by filling in clam holes even when it’s not required by law and throwing back undersized fish even when there’s no size limit. He also advised people to avoid the eco-unfriendly crowds that often form at spots like Mavericks Reef.
“It would be irresponsible to harvest mussels there,” he said. Typically, Lombard recommends foragers try their luck at other areas of the coast such as Tomales Bay in Marin County or South Jetty in Humboldt County, where fishing is open to the public.
Close to 4 p.m., Lombard announced that the next quest was to find an eel.
“We have to move fast,” he said. “The tide is coming in.”
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.