Oysters Harvesting Guide For BC: Regulations, Limits, Licenses 2020

This BC Oyster Foraging Guide: Regulations, Limits, Licenses has been updated to meet 2020 government regulations. I wrote this guide to make it easier for new foragers to learn about and harvest oysters in BC safely and legally.

This BC Oyster Harvesting Guide: Regulations, Limits, Licenses has been updated to meet 2020 government regulations. 

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While wild oysters are delicious and fun to collect, it isn’t always easy to get started as an amateur forager and harvester in BC. It can be hard to understand the legal regulations, limits, licenses, and other restrictions that come with harvesting wild oysters in BC. I wrote this guide for new foragers to help you get started and to help protect our shared environment. 

Top Must-Have Things to Harvest Oysters in BC

To harvest wild oysters in BC legally, safely and ethically, you must have these things:

  1. Hold a valid recreational tidal fishing license for British Columbia
  2. Know the general regulations for harvesting wild oysters in BC
  3. Know the collection limits and regulations for oysters in the specific area you’re harvesting in
  4. Know the wild oysters you’re collecting are safe and edible according to red tide, sanitary, and other shellfish closures in the area you’re harvesting from
  5. Understand oyster harvesting and foraging best practices

Having these things will help you have a successful and safe harvest. 

Wild oyster bed with oysters and oyster shells on ground in BC

Pictured: Wild oyster bed on the coast of British Columbia. We checked for red tide and regulations in the area before harvesting and eating our limit of oysters. 

How to Get a Valid Recreational Tidal Fishing License For BC

Follow these steps to get a recreational fishing license: 

  1. Read the rules about recreational tidal fishing licenses in BC in this government overview
  2. Apply for your recreational tidal fishing license for BC though the Canadian Government website
    • Click ‘Apply Now’ 
    • Register or log in 
    • Follow the steps to select license, pay and print

You must have a valid recreational tidal fishing license to harvest any wild oysters or other shellfish in British Columbia.

Tips about BC tidal fishing licenses

Here are some more tips to help you better understand your fishing license:

  • You can apply for an annual license, multiple day licenses, or a one-day license to harvest wild shellfish for your own personal enjoyment (not reselling). Wild food enthusiasts, amateur foragers, and hobbyists should apply for recreational fishing licenses.
  • Fees differ between residents of BC and non-residents/tourists from outside of BC.
  • Fishing and shellfish harvesting for commercial or business reasons will require a different kind of license.
  • You can buy your tidal fishing license online, but you need to have a printed copy of the fishing license with you while harvesting in the wild, also known as, “the field”.
  • Make sure to purchase the tidal fishing license, not the freshwater fishing license, if you want to harvest oysters using it. 
  • Annual tidal fishing licenses are annual and expire every year on the same date for everyone. Tidal fishing licenses expire on March 31 of the calendar year. This is important to know because the cost of the license is always the same and is not pro-rated if you purchase later during the 12-month period. 

Oyster Harvesting Rules and Regulations in BC

In BC, you are able to harvest unopened wild oysters in the shell and/or shuck oysters where you find them and only harvest the oyster meat. To maintain the health and habitat of wild oysters beds, harvesters are encouraged to either:

  • Shuck oysters where you find them and leave the shells behind on the beach or coastal location, or
  • Return oyster shells to the beach or coastal location where you harvested them

Regardless, all harvested wild oysters must be in a condition that makes them easy to count and identify until you get to an ordinary residence, such as your home or a rented residence.

This regulations means that any oysters you shucked in the wild should be transported whole, not cut or processed, to prevent people from harvesting over their legal collection limit or the wrong oyster species.

You can also cook wild oysters in the wilderness within your collection limit. This means you can cook and eat oysters instead of bringing them home first.

You can cook wild oysters outdoors, such as on the beach where you found them, as long as you adhere to applicable rules and regulations regarding outdoor fires and/or cooking in the area you’re in.

You can only harvest oysters on public land within tidal areas regulated for it. You can read more about tidal area regulations in the next section. Please use public access points to travel to oyster locations. Don’t trespass or harvest through or on private property, like privately-owned oyster farms. 

What Are Oyster Limits and Tidal Areas?

Tidal areas are areas of land divided by the Government of Canada. Each Tidal area has different regulations that determine the collection limits for wild oyster harvesting. You need to know what tidal area you’re harvesting from to determine the specific regulations and limits that apply for wild oyster harvesting there.

How to Find Oyster Collection Limits and Restrictions For Your Tidal Area

  1. Go to the Fisheries and Oceans Government website (“the DFO”) for BC sports fishing link here. Find your tidal area by searching for your location in the search bar (circled in red in the image below). Press enter. In this example, I will show you how to find the collection limits and restrictions for different wild oyster species found in Powell River.

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2. The search results should return your location under the “City, Town or Landmark” column. Click on the Tidal Area link (circled in red in the image below).

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3. When harvesting oysters, click on the “Bivalve shellfish” tab in the menu (circled in red in image below).

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4. Scroll down to “Species regulations”. You can see the collection limits for each species of wild oysters found in your tidal area (circled in red in image below).  In the example, there are two wild oysters species that can be found in Powell River: Olympia Oyster and Pacific Oyster.

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5. The collection limits can be found under the “Limits” column (circled in red in image below).

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6. Collection limits are divided into (d) daily limit; (p) possession limit; (a) annual limit. These limits are defined in the image below. You need to understand the collection limits and adhere to these limits to harvest wild oysters in BC legally.

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7. You can find the last set of regulations by scrolling down to “Restrictions”. In this section, you will find any additional restrictions that apply to harvesting wild oysters in the area (circled in red in image below).

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Checking For Red Tide, Sanitary, And Shellfish Closures

All wild oysters and other bivalve shellfish in BC could be affected by red tide, sanitary closures, or other shellfish closures. Before you harvest wild oysters, you need to make sure they’re safe to eat in the location you are harvesting from.

Failing to check for shellfish closures risks serious consequences, such as paralytic shellfish poisoning and other serious illnesses. You can figure out whether wild oysters are safe and edible to eat by understanding red tide, sanitary, and other shellfish closures in BC with these step-by-step instructions.

Oyster Harvesting Best Practices In British Columbia

Oyster harvesting best practices may differ slightly depending on the location you’re collecting oysters in. Despite this, there are guidelines that should be followed wherever you’re harvesting oysters in the wild:

  • Only harvest as many oysters as you need. This is often less than the maximum regulated limit.
  • Try to shuck oysters and leave the shells where you found them, if this is possible according to the government regulations where you are harvesting.
  • Leave as much of the environment in the environment. Wash or remove as much sand, debris, and water as you can from oysters you take.
  • Never harvest a large percentage of total oysters in an area.
  • Leave the area you are harvesting from better than how you found it. Try to minimize your impact on the habitat around you and take away litter if you can. Practice leave no trace principles. 
  • Be careful, wild oyster shells can be sharp. You may want to wear protective shoes and/or gloves.

Illustrated Guide to Shuck Wild Oysters

Opening wild BC oysters can be harder to open compared to farmed oysters. Learn to open harvested oysters quickly by following this illustrated instructions on how to shuck wild oysters.

Bookmark this wild oysters guide for BC for all your future oyster foraging!

This post was originally published in 2018 and was updated in September 2020.

Posted by Arielle

Arielle is a passionate urban homesteader and hunter located in Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

  1. you should also make sure that you are not harvesting on someone’s oyster farm!

    Reply

    1. Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment, I appreciate your feedback. I updated this article to note that people should not trespass or harvest from privately owned land (such as oyster farms) when harvesting. Thanks again!

      Reply

  2. As of April 11, 2019 the limits were reduced to 12 oysters per person per day, with a possession limit of 24. Volume limits no longer apply. http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/index-eng.html

    Reply

    1. Thanks for the added information, Dan! I didn’t list any specific limits or volume limits in the article here, as I know the regulations may change from year to year. That’s why I shared step-by-step instructions on how to find limits by location. It’s nice to see that fisheries are keeping an eye on what’s being said about the DFO website, though! 🙂

      Reply

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