Shellfish Harvesting

Harvesting bivalve shellfish (which include, among others, soft-shell clams, blue mussels and Atlantic razor clams) is very popular with residents and Aboriginal peoples from Quebec's coastal regions. Fisheries and Oceans Canada closely monitors shellfish harvesting and the shellfish areas closed to harvesting.

Human Health Risks

Bivalve shellfish (oysters, mussels, soft-shell clams, etc.) filter water to feed on the micro-organisms it contains. Thus they can amass high concentrations of certain toxic organisms such as toxic algae or pathogenic bacteriaTwo toxins are particularly dangerous: Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxin and domoic acid. Both are produced naturally by microscopic algae living in plankton. Shellfish accumulate them in their flesh by eating these algae.

Humans that consume shellfish containing these toxins may suffer nervous system problems that can lead to death. While not fatal, other biotoxins produced by algae in the St. Lawrence River can cause serious digestive or intestinal problems.

With the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada work together to monitor shellfish safety and to close shellfish areas that pose a risk to human health.

Before harvesting shellfish, check the shellfish areas' status and comply with any regulations in effect.

The Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program

The DANGERS of Illegal Harvesting

Areas Closed Off to Harvesting

Harvesters wishing to harvest shellfish must first check the shellfish areas status and comply with the regulations in effect.To find out which harvest sites are safe, you can visit the web site SHELLI : (S)hellfish, (H)arvest, (E)xtents, (L)atitude, (L)ongitude, (I)nformation or call one of the following telephone numbers:

General enquiry: 418-648-2239 (call during business hours)

Estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence

24-hour recorded information lines:

    From St-Roch-des-Aulnaies to Cap-Gaspé: 1-800-463-0607 *
    From Cap-Gaspé to the Matapédia River: 1-800-463-4204 *
    From Québec to Baie-Trinité: 1-800-463-8558 *
    From Baie-Trinité to Natashquan: 1-800-463-1736 *
    From Kegaska to Blanc-Sablon: 1-800-463-8558 *
  • MAGDALEN ISLANDS: 418-986-3882

    * Number not available outside of this area.

In addition, the harvesting of shellfish less than 125 metres from a wharf is banned at all times because of the contamination risk.

Shellfish harvesting areas can be closed off for public health reasons or for conservation purposes. Under the Management of Contaminated Fisheries Regulations, it is forbidden to harvest shellfish in closed off areas. Shellfish areas closed off for public health reasons are identified by interdiction posters in the harvesting areas. Fisheries officers patrol closed beds to ensure that no unsafe shellfish are taken; if necessary, violators are ticketed. 

The most recent area closures are posted in the In the News section on our Regional Home Page.

Commercial Hand Harvesting

In Quebec, commercial harvesting of bivalve shellfish (soft-shell clams, mussels, Atlantic surfclams, Atlantic razor clams) plays a key role in the economy of coastal regions. Just over 300 commercial harvesting licences are granted for bivalve shellfish. The industry's annual landing values represent between 2.5 and 4-million dollars.

For information on commercial harvesting (landings, licence issuing rules, authorized gear, etc.), contact the Fisheries and Oceans Canada office in your sector.

Recreational Hand Harvesting

Shellfish harvesting is regulated to ensure resource conservation. As a result, harvesters must comply with the following regulations:

  • Recreational harvesting should be carried out with manual tools only.
  • Recreational harvesting of Iceland scallop, giant scallop, whelks, oysters and Stimpson's surfclams is forbidden at all times.
  • The species and daily catch limits permitted vary according to sector. Obtain information from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada office in your sector to find out the rules in force.


In sectors where it is permitted to fish these species, harvesters should respect the following minimum sizes:



Minimum size permitted*

Soft-shell clam (cockle)

51 mm

Atlantic clam (clams)

76 mm 
(90 mm in the Magdalen Islands)

Blue mussel

40 mm

Atlantic razor clam

100 mm

* The minimum size is measured at the longest part of the shell.

End of recreational whelk fishing pilot project: Fisheries and Oceans Canada advises the public that the recreational whelk fishing pilot project which took place from April 9 to May 1, 2016, in an area of the Municipality of Longue-Rive is now over.

Issuing of Special Licences for Harvesting Contaminated Shellfish

Fisheries and Oceans Canada can issue shellfish licences to harvest contaminated shellfish for decontamination or scientific purposes under the Management of Contaminated Fisheries Regulations.

Management of Contaminated Fisheries Regulations 
Justice Canada

To apply for a licence to harvest contaminated shellfish, please contact the Fisheries and Oceans Canada office in your sector.

Research on Coastal Shellfish

Assessment of Softshell Clam Stocks in Quebec’s Coastal Waters
Science Advisory Report 2011/022