We scour the featureless mud looking for something only our guide can see – a tiny hole in the sand. I get distracted for a second when the same mud tried to suck my shoe off, and look up in time to see our tall leader in a Santa Claus hat jump in the air and land in the mud. A geyser of water spits a foot into the air between his feet and he exclaims, “That’s a good one!”. This is Kirk Lombard, and I am on my first sea forager tour.
In no time he’s shoveling the mud away and places a homemade tube fashioned out of a wide PVC pipe around the spout. After digging for over three feet he reaches in to claim his prize: a horseneck clam. “It didn’t get this name because it looked like a horse’s neck,” he proudly exclaims.
Kirk is an interesting guy – an eclectic mad fisherman of sorts who can tell you almost anything about life in these oceans. His mission is to educate people about local, under-harvested, yet delicious species of sea creatures as alternatives to exploited ones. His blog, The Monkeyface News, is a site that I’ve read consistently for nearly three years, and has opened my eyes to all of the delicious seafood that I would have never thought to buy.
After digging up several clams with great effort, we got to navigate the web of intertidal life among the rocks. In it he pointed out a plethora of edible sea life, including mussels, limpets, sea urchin, and kelp. More importantly he warned about harvesting them in a responsible way and taking care not to destroy the habitat they live in.
We then set out in search of a fish that Kirk got his brand from – the Monkey Face eel. He’s always quick to point out that it isn’t actually an eel, but a prickleback. He has credentials, too. Kirk holds the California state record for this eel, er, prickleback. Unfortunately we were bad luck for him this particular evening, and he wasn’t able to catch one. Luckily someone else shared their catch for us – which included three pricklebacks and a very nice Cabezon.
He then hurried us back on to shore because the harvesting of shellfish is illegal at night (to protect the sensitive abalone fishery). Quite possibly being one of the only people on the tour left with an appetite, I took home a nice bounty of mussels, clams and a couple of greenlings. These became part of a lovely seafood stew the next evening to the delight of my brothers.
I’d highly recommend the tour if you are interested in this sort of thing. Even if you never attempt to harvest anything on your own, you’ll find newfound respect for seafood which will hopefully make you a better consumer! His tours can be found at http://seaforager.com/tours/