06/13/2024

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‘It kind of ruined our trip’: Family fined $88K after trying to pick up seashells on the beach and making a costly mistake

Background: YouTube KABC screengrab shows clams picked up illegally at Pismo Beach, California late last year by the Russ family of Fresno. Inset: Charlotte Russ, YouTube screengrab KABC.

Background: YouTube KABC screengrab shows clams picked up illegally at Pismo Beach, California late last year by the Russ family of Fresno. Inset: Charlotte Russ, YouTube screengrab KABC.

For a family from California, it was an “unforgettable” vacation to Pismo Beach when a stroll on the shore and a well-intended seashell hunt went sideways and ended in a ticket totaling $88,000.

The hefty fine was the result of seemingly expert clam-fishing done by Charlotte Russ’ children, though they had no idea at the time that’s what they were doing.

Russ told Fresno ABC affiliate KFSN that her kids were digging up what they believed to be seashells on Pismo Beach toward the end of last year, not realizing they had collected live clams instead.

There were 72 — “to be exact,” Russ said.

Pismo Beach, according to the city’s website, has deemed itself the Clam Capital of the World since 1947. But what was once abundant has drastically shrunk down over the years and is only now experiencing a resurgence. Pacific Razor Clams and Pismo Beach Clams are strictly regulated under California state laws. Would-be fishers must adhere to rules and licensing requirements about where and when clams can be fished, how they must be placed back and more. For instance, clams of a smaller size are required to be reburied.

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    Russ said this week that she received the ticket from a Department of Fish and Wildlife officer right on the spot at Pismo Beach. The officer told her that her children were collecting the clams without a license, she said.

    “Right before we went, that’s when I opened it and that’s when I saw the amount,” Russ told KFSN.

    When she later received a notice stating she would have to pay a little over $88,000 for the offense, Russ said: “It made me really sad and depressed, and kind of ruined our trip.”

    But there was good news once Russ’ case was before a San Luis Obispo County judge. The judge agreed to reduce her fine to just $500.

    Russ said now she can look on the experience with a sense of humor and even went so far as to get a tattoo of a shellfish as a reminder of her family’s Pismo adventure. Acknowledging the rules in place to protect clams from overfishing, the Fresno woman said she only wished there were even more signs on the beach that warned people about what is OK to pick up and what is subject to restriction.

    YouTube screengrab of tattoo mom Charlotte Russ got to commemorate their mistake at Pismo Beach, California. KABC.

    YouTube screengrab of tattoo mom Charlotte Russ got to commemorate their mistake at Pismo Beach, California. KABC.

    According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, fines for those caught not adhering to the rules can range anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per offense.

    The Los Angeles Times did a deep dive into the Pismo Clam in November 2021 and noted the drastic reduction in the mollusk’s numbers. Though it is unclear exactly how long it takes a clam to reach its legal size for fishers, the estimates reportedly span 10 to 14 years to grow just 4.5 inches. The largest researchers had found in 2021 was only 3 inches long.

    The Times reported that in 2020, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had seized 25,000 undersized clams and issued a little more than 220 citations. One group of visitors to Pismo Beach that year had stuffed an entire umbrella bag with clams — 368, to be exact.

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    The post ‘It kind of ruined our trip’: Family fined $88K after trying to pick up seashells on the beach and making a costly mistake first appeared on Law & Crime.