Oct 14, 2011 12:28 AM by Jeanette Trompeter

No Place Like Home: Pismo Clam History

There are sure to be big crowds at the beach in Pismo this weekend. It's the 65th annual clam festival.

There may not be a lot of clams around anymore, but there's good reason to devote a weekend to the little critter, because the Pismo clam is yet another reason there's No Place Like Home.

The clam that was once plentiful along the Pismo shore kind of put Pismo on the map. The little mollusk was abundant here long before bugs bunny set his sights on Pismo Beach.

And "Dragnet" put the community in the spotlight connecting it to this seaside delicacy.

Pismo's connection to the clam is much older, though, than the city itself. The area was all Chumash Native American ground at one time, and the little mollusk was used not only as food, but currency. The diaries of the rancheros also talk about going clamming, and there was an abundance of clams here before the turn of the century. "But then people were taking them by the thousands." says Bob Pringle, owner of Pismo Bob's Hardware. "You gotta' remember when this was on a high, it was out of control. People were taking 1000-1500 at a time."

The conception of this hoppin' seaside community becoming a township started in 1842. That's when a man named Jose Ortega received a Spanish land grant. By 1850, Juan Miguel Price, or "Uncle Johnny Price" purchased 8000 acres of the Pismo Ranch that would become the city of Pismo Beach.

The first effort to control the harvesting of clams came in 1915, when county supervisors put a limit of 12-13 inches in size. And they limited daily hauls to 75!

Pismo was enjoying a heyday born out of these bountiful harvests from the sea. "It was truly the clam capitol of the world." Pringle points out.

By World WarII, locals began to see the Pismo Clam was in danger, and clamming was prohibited in most areas. It did, however, continue to be harvested commercially by three different companies for years.

In 1949 when clamming was re-opened to the general public, the people poured in it's estimated 25-thousand people would come to dig a day, and they didn't leave empty handed. Newspapers talk of of 750 tons of clams being hauled out daily. But those clams got scarce again by the 50's and 60''s and virtually non-existent by the 80's.

The truth there aren't many clams on this beach anymore. But it's still legal to try and get some. And whether they're here or not, the clam will likely always be the mascot of Pismo Beach.

Pringle says tourists still associate Pismo Beach as a great place to get your feet wet and give clamming a try. "As long as they have a license, you can take them as long as they are 4 1/2 inches or larger. If they're smaller than that, you have to put them back in the sand the same way you found them. Still we sell clam forks and clam gages, but they're not as prevelant."

And even if you come up empty, it's not a bad place to spend a day digging for Pismo Beach treasure. "The kids now because of the parents and grandparents, everyone wants to come back to Pismo Beach because Pismo Beach is like Mayberry and everyone remembers what it used to be, you know?" says Pringle.



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