Chatham Oysters
6×8 oil on panel
©2013 Chris Gillis Cape Cod, MA

My wife was the first person to get me into shellfishing.  When we first met she brought over a haul of mussels that she had harvested from the bayside of Dennis, and boy was I impressed.  Not only did I think that shellfishing was just a commercial business here on the Cape, I didn’t realize that as a resident you could grab a permit and go out to the mud and grab dinner.  When we lived in Brewster we bought the shellfishing permit there and headed out two days a week to get quahogs, littlenecks, steamers and at the end of the Fall they tossed all the raised oysters on a bed for the pickings.  At the time we were psyched about the abundance of shellfish – especially on quahog Wednesday and Fridays but as we ventured out further on the flats we realized that the clams were only concentrated in one spot but we saw what we thought were clam holes everywhere in the mud.  Later we found out that it was more of a tourist treasure chest out there and the quahogs were dumped weekly probably harvested out in the bay somewhere. We thought it was kindof odd that they just dumped them out there and people retrieved them, but the amount of shellfish we were harvesting quickly made those feelings dissipate. 

We got smart and started digging for steamers as they seemed a little more native to the land.  At the time we only had my wife’s Grandfather’s scallop rake (which we still use for littlenecks), a copy of the classic book Making A Living Alongshore by Phil Schwind and it was getting near winter.  We grabbed a proper Ipswich-style rake, some gloves and cheap rubber boots off of eBay and we were in business. We would head out to the flats, grab a couple steamers and get  disappointed that on this wide expanse of tide (one of the longest reaching low tides in New England) we were striking out left and right.  One day I ventured down there alone and met a couple in their 70’s digging in the rocks right near the shore, I went over to talk to them and they shared all their secrets of digging steamers in the rocks, I’ll never forget it.  They even told me where to grab the foam kneeling pad so your knees don’t get torn up.  They grabbed enough for dinner and headed back to their house, stoked.

Fast forward a couple of years and we are still shellfishing – it has become a way for us to get back to the land and also get out in nature in the colder months.  There’s nothing like being on Pleasant Bay by yourself when the sun is shining and it’s in the 30’s, grabbing a bucket of littlenecks, coming home and cracking a beer. You make dinner you just caught yourself rather than relying on the grocery store or some chain…it’s a very satisfying feeling.

So back to this painting above – I have been working on some paintings lately inspired by shellfishing the Cape and the shellfish abundance we have here – Oysters, Littlenecks, Quahogs, Steamers, Razor Clams and more.  I’ll have these up for sale in an auction-style format sometime this winter, so stay tuned….


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