What to Know About Cockle and Crab Fishing on Long Island

For many Long Islanders, clam and crab fishing are summertime traditions often shared between families and across generations. What makes gathering such simple creatures so alluring? The answers can be pleasingly diverse, but surely the prospect of a fresh, tasty meal, enjoying the outdoors and getting some exercise tops the list.

HOT SPOTS FOR CLAMMERS AND CRABBAGES

Stephen Curti of St. James holds his earned clam bounty after a short time spent collecting clams at Stony Brook Harbor in St. James.
Credit: Daniel Brennan

Blue crabs are usually caught with inexpensive box or pyramid type traps baited with bunkers or chicken wings, or using a long-handled crab net and the docks or bulkheads of south shore and bay bays. the east end are prime locations. Blueclaws can also be taken from boats or picked up from the bottom while wading across shallow stretches of sand. Crabs are also available in North Shore ports, but generally in fewer numbers. Your favorite spot for snapper fishing is a good starting point, as are the public piers at Captree State Park ($8 parking) and Wantagh County Park (free for Nassau residents). Smith Point Marina County Park offers access along its bay and bulkhead, and the banks of the Shinnecock Canal can also be productive (when the locks are closed).

Clams are easily scooped up in the shallow waters of the bay or harbor using either a scrape rake to dig them up, or a method called “cramming”, in which you toss your food into the sand while wading through the water. water up to the knees to the chest. When you smell buried treasure, simply bend down and pick up your prize. Be sure to wear water shoes or an old pair of trainers if you take this route to avoid cuts from shells and debris. Success is enhanced by slamming on receding tides when you can access waters that receive less harvest pressure.

Sandbars and shallow plains are the main habitat of clams. Note that most tidal coves, river mouths, and areas surrounding marinas are closed to clams. Watching other shellfish succeed is a sure sign you’ve stumbled upon a place worth investigating – but leave plenty of space between you and others as crowding is considered bad form in this laid back sport .

MORE CLAMMING SPOTS

CUPSOGUE BEACH COUNTY PARK, WESTHAMPTON

CLAM POTENTIAL Always good clams on the bay of Moriches. The path to the bay is at the northwest end of the parking lot.

COSTS $18 ($9 resident with Green Key pass) for parking from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

CEDAR POINT COUNTY PARK, EAST HAMPTON

CLAM POTENTIAL Decent clams in Northwest Harbor are available directly in front of the parking lot.

COSTS None

CORDWOOD LANDING COUNTY PARK, MILLER PLACE

CLAM POTENTIAL Easy access to the main clam waters of Long Island Sound.

COSTS None

MORE CRAB SPOTS

CAPTREE STATE PARK, BAYSHORE

CRAB POTENTIAL Excellent from mid-June to early September from the south-east pier.

COSTS $8 for parking charged 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends and holidays.

SMITH POINT COUNTY PARK, SHIRLEY

CRAB POTENTIAL Fair to good daytime crabbing available from shore or wading immediately north of the main parking lot and east of the Smiths Point Bridge. July to September is high season.

COSTS $18 ($9 resident with Green Key pass) for parking from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend, inclusive.

SHINNECOCK CANAL, HAMPTON BAY

CRAB POTENTIAL The west shore has good crab fishing potential day and night in July, August and early September. Crab viable in this location only when the locks are closed. Call Shinnecock Lock House (631-852-8299) to confirm lock opening and closing times.

COSTS None

LICENSES AND REGISTRATIONS

Casting nets in the waters of the fishing piers at...

Casting nets in the waters of the fishing piers at Jones Beach. Credit: Patricia Kelleher, Wantagh

Clams and other shellfish such as oysters, mussels and scallops can only be caught in waters that are DEC certified and currently open to shellfish fishing. No state permit is required for recreational shellfish harvesting. If you are harvesting clams in city waters, contact city offices for additional harvest limits and permit requirements. Contact Suffolk County Parks for access and availability to harvest shells from park lands. For a list of New York State’s DEC-certified shellfish-fishing waters with free access and no license required, visit dec.ny.gov/outdoor.

No license or permit is required for crabbing on Long Island.

SHELL CLOSURES

NYS DEC has an online tool to check which waters are currently certified and open for shellfish fishing and which are closed (nysdec.maps.arcgis.com) and the map covers all waters on Long Island. Areas certified and open to shellfish fishing are shown in light blue, seasonal closures are shown in dark blue, and year-round closures are shown in red.

RULES OF THE GAME

A group collects clams together in Stony Brook...

A group collects clams together in Stony Brook Harbor in St. James.
Credit: Daniel Brennan

During the hot summer months, all shellfish should be kept shaded and cooled to minimize the potential for bacteria growth. Once you are done gathering your catch, immediately place them in a cooler, on ice, or some type of refrigeration. Never leave shellfish in standing water.

Harvest Limits: blue crabs

Season: all year

Minimum size: 4.5 inch hard shell, 3.5 inch soft shell (3 inch shelter)

Maximum per day: 50

Harvest Limits: hard clams

Season: all year

Minimum size: 1″ thick across the hinge

Maximum per day: 100

HEALTH TIPS FOR CONSUMPTION OF CRABS

The DEC and the New York State Department of Health (DOH) issue advisories on the consumption of game fish and wild animals due to potentially harmful levels of chemical contaminants. Jamaica Bay specifically issued an advisory against eating blue crabs and fish.

In all waters, it is recommended not to consume crab or lobster tomalli (liver or hepatopancreas), the soft “green stuff” found in the body section of crabs and lobsters, as it can concentrate potentially harmful chemicals. For the most recent and accurate data on fish consumption advisories, visit: health.ny.gov/environmental.

About Marie A. Gingrich

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