DIG! Pismo Clams: Education, Outreach, and Citizen Science to Promote Marine Stewardship


By Cecilia Seiter

We talk a lot about fish, but there are other creatures living among us that deserve our attention, too: large, marine mollusks called Pismo clams. 

These edible saltwater clams are bivalves native to the shores and range from  the Central Coast through  Baja California, Mexico. They were commercially harvested beginning in the early 1900s, when horse-drawn plows raked the beaches and overturned the clams during low tide. Commercial harvesting of Pismo clams was outlawed in 1947, but they’ve continued to be collected recreationally, which some say is the main factor for their depletion. The last legal sized clams harvested in Pismo Beach was in 1993.  

Collecting Pismo clams is now regulated by law, but the population still remains small. That’s why Central Coast Salmon Enhancement is partnering with the Cal Poly’s Center for Coastal Marine Sciences to create a citizen science program (aptly named DIG! Pismo Clams) for monitoring clam populations. It’s a way to get out to the beach and do some digging, all while helping contribute to baseline scientific data collection! 

In addition to harnessing citizen science, CCSE will bring Pismo Clams to the classroom, much like we do with our iconic Steelhead trout. We’ll be creating curricula for high school students to view their own connection to the environment through the lens of the Pismo clam. We’ll also take our classes on field trips to monitor the clams on the beach, using the same protocol as our adult citizen scientists. 

Jumpstarting these exciting new programs wouldn’t be possible without our $25,000 Whale Tail grant, which was recently awarded to us by the California Coastal Commission. Our citizen science program will be up and running this fall, and our education program starts  in January 2018. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the program, volunteering, or if you’re a high school science teacher in Santa Maria inspired to help us pilot the program, shoot us an email at info@centralcoastsalmon.com. We’d be “happy as clams” for you to join us.