Foraging Ocean Bounty
Just after 7 on a late-May morning, intertidal sea forager and champion eel fisherman Kirk Lombard addressed a bundled-up audience at a Pillar Point Harbor beach in Half Moon Bay. Mother Nature dictated the early morning meet-up, but the early start didn’t stop Lombard from filling up his tour slots.
“This time of year, all the low tides are really, really killer early,” an enthused Lombard explained to the group of 15. “You guys all showed up, so you get the big day here.”
My fellow tour goers and I spent more than three hours with Lombard in careful shoreline exploration of edible, and sometimes just utterly fascinating, sea life. We were treated to a glimpse into the lives of some interesting bivalves—including the sometimes-difficult-to-obtain horseneck clam plus a grass rockfish, a fat innkeeper worm, urchins, mussels, a smorgasbord of seaweed, a moon snail, a rock crab and a couple of monkeyface eels.
An avid forager since boyhood, Lombard has also worn many other hats over the years: teacher, actor and performer with his band, Rube Waddell. He was inspired to help teach others how to gather the fruits of the sea after working seven years as a fisheries observer for the California Department of Fish and Game and witnessing firsthand the growth in the forage movement.
“People want to be able to generate their own protein and find their own fish … and shellfish on the shore,” Lombard told the group. “I think that has to do with a loss of faith in the system.”
But true to his Department of Fish and Game experience, Lombard can’t stress enough the importance of foraging responsibly.
“You’ve got to realize it’s a limited resource,” he explained, “and the only way this is in any way sustainable is if I can impress upon you guys the absolute necessity of following all the regulations and the rules.”
Lombard even goes beyond the rules and regulations to instill a sense of ethics in his tour group members. He asks anyone who plans to dig in the sand for clams to fill in the holes to ensure the continuation of the species.
Similarly, Lombard discourages the collection of mussels at Pillar Point Harbor due to the location’s tremendous popularity. He points out that there are plenty of places on the western side of San Francisco and Pacifica to gather the coveted mollusk
“If you embrace just looking, carefully, and taking your time, the splendors of the world open up to you,” Lombard said before the conclusion of his tour. “Then you don’t have to go to the fish market and ask the fishmonger if it’s sustainable.”
Tours take place about once a month in Half Moon Bay and San Francisco. Although collection during the tours is not permitted, if participants have acquired a fishing license beforehand they are allowed to harvest up to the state limits when the tour concludes.
For more information, visit Kirk Lombard’s website SeaForager.com.
Carina Woudenberg is a freelance writer living in San Carlos. She grew up on the Coastside and, as a kid, collected mussels at Pillar Point Harbor with her family.