Guide to Fishing on Foot

Food and the outdoors are probably among the most beloved activities in France. In the Vendée we are lucky to be near the Atlantic coast. On sunny days we can flock to the beaches at low tide, armed with wire baskets, spoons, shovels and rakes. We can go on a mission, striding across the wide beaches with purpose because low tide has given way to hidden treasure: the ingredients for a delicious shellfish dinner. Welcome to the what, the where, and the how of the oldest form of fishing known to man: hand gathering or pêche à pied.
What is pêche à pied 

First let us state we've had a difficult time finding the right translations or terminology in both English or Dutch for this particular activity. Shore fishing, hand gathering (also a sewing term), clam digging... To be honest, we find the French term for this popular pass-time the best. It describes perfectly what it is... but a literal translation to foot fishing sounds like fishing for feet! Which is not what we're doing here. No ... we are collecting shellfish on the beach or fishing on foot or hand gathering or clam digging.

  • The term fishing on foot only describes the activity but also its first rule. The use of snorkels, a float, a boat, or any motor vehicle is prohibited.
  • The catch is only meant for personal use or consumption.
  • Fishing on foot is only allowed on maritime public domain or in salt-water portions of rivers, streams or canals.
  • The above represent the first, general and permanent fishing on foot regulation - general across France. They apply to the Vendée department, BUT
    • the prefecture and/or local town halls (mairie) may have additional rules to follow
  • Shore fishing implies fishing with rods or a net from the shore.

There are common sense rules when it comes to the harvesting of food resources in the wild. In any type of foraging some knowledge is required, but so is recognizing when to leave something for the next person that comes along... It is not only the law in France,  it is a courtesy that runs so much deeper than what's right in front of us.

In 1833, the British economist William Forster Lloyd wrote about the 'Tragedy of the Commons', a citation that to this day is used quite often in relation to environmental science and sustainable development.

Having access to a common hunting ground such as the ocean for fishing, the beach for fishing on foot, or the forest for foraging, can lead to problems that affect the environment far into the future.

This is why there are rules and regulations to follow e.g. France has a weight limit for harvesting scallops and whelks (among other fruits de mer) per pêche à pied outing.

By acting in one's own self-interest we're not only depleting the shared resource, we're also in danger of damaging a valuable eco-system.

Fishing from the beach or the rocks by the sea does not require a permit in France.

The proper etiquette, in France... 
(and elsewhere)
    • Tread lightly and pay attention to what's underfoot.
    • Respect the life-cycles of shellfish creatures.
    • Harvest only enough to feed yourself and your family for one meal (it's the law!)
    • Teach children and grandchildren how to carry on the tradition.
    What are the tools of fishing on foot?
    • for emergencies: cell phone, whistle, flashlight
    • boots or sandals
    • a small knife or a screwdriver (to remove shells from the rocks)
    • a tablespoon or a small shovel
    • gloves or a small rake
    • a bucket or wire basket
    • a shore fishing ruler (ask for it in a tourist office)
    • hat, sunglasses and sunscreen!!
    • a change of clothes and towel (keep in the car)

      Learning the proper regulations of recreational shellfish gathering on foot
      extends respect to tradition, biodiversity, and the environment!

      How to dig for shellfish on the beach –

      Before you leave


      • know rules and sizes (respect minimum size of shellfish and crustaceans authorized)
      • fish away from port areas, river mouths and drainage networks
      • dig only in known and frequented places
      • keep away from oyster farms and shellfish parks
      • know the limits you can take, there can be control and exceeding the limit can result in significant fines

      On the beach

      • 45 minutes after low tide
      • look for coin-sized depressions and water spurting out of a small hole
        • dimple: a small, flat depression in the sand
        • doughnut: a hole with raised sides
        • keyhole: a hole with distinct edges, but no raised sides
        • dig a hole at least 18–20 cm (7–8 inches) into the ground using a shovel or spoon and make sure you upturn the clam
        • rake or sift through the upturned dirt to find the clam
          • if there is no clam, refill the hole!
          • pull the clam gently out of the dirt and place gently in the bucket to avoid damage
          • refresh the seashells with sea water
          • to avoid food poisoning, throw away broken or dead shellfish
      • replace rocks and seaweed not to cause damage to the environment

        Safety for yourself and others

        • refill each hole and press the sand down after digging up a clam to keep people from tripping on the holes
        • keep in sight of other fishermen
        • monitor the rising water
        • watch out for fog
        • wear/ refresh sunscreen to avoid sunburn


          • rinse the catch with shore water to remove any dirt or debris (tap water will kill them as will a sudden temperature change, so use cool water)
          • to disgorge the shells from sand and silt, add 100g of salt to 4L of water and leave them for at least one hour in a cool, dark place, but preferably three hours.
          • remove the shells from the salt water and wash again before cooking
          • keep the seashells in the refrigerator, in a bowl, covered with a damp towel to keep them alive
          • eat the shellfish quickly after fishing, preferably the same day but within 24 hrs
          Best spots for fishing on foot in the Vendee –
          • Noirmoutier
            • Le passage du Gois
          • Saint-Jean-de-Monts and Notre-Dame-de-Monts
            • Plages de la Davière
            • Plage du Golf
            • Plage du pont d'Yeu
          • Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez
            • Plage de la Pelle
            • Plage de Sion
          • Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie
            • La Grande Plage
          • Brétignolles-sur-Mer
            • Plage de la Sauzaie
            • Plage de la Normandelière
            • Plage du Marais-Girard
          • La Tranche-sur-Mer
            • Le rocher Sainte-Anne
            • Plage le Grouin du Cou
            • Talmont-Saint-Hilaire
              • La plage du Veillon
            • Jard-sur-Mer and Saint-Vincent-sur-Jard
              • Plage de Ragounite
              • Plage Légère
              • Plage de Ragnette
            • Longeville-sur-Mer
              • Plage du Bouil
              • Plage du Rocher
              • Plage des Conches
            peche a pied hand gathering footfishing vendee
            About shellfish poisoning –

            Shellfish poisoning can be caused by the consumption of shellfish contaminated with bacteria or, more commonly, viruses. Contaminated shellfish may include shrimp, crabs, clams, oysters, dried fish, and salted raw fish. Bad shellfish can be recognized by:

            • tainted smell or taste
            • tapping the shell of an open clam, mussel etc. Shellfish should be alive. When you tap them and the shell doesn't close, the creature is dead and should not be eaten.
            • shells floating to the top when rinsing them in water - live shellfish should sink to the bottom
            • broken shells
            • after cooking, when the shells are not open, they are not good for consumption

              Symptoms of shellfish poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and cramps. If a person has blood in their stool and/ or fever, it may indicate a bacterial infection. Symptoms occur within 1 to 48 hours of eating shellfish and it only takes 1 out of the bunch to make you sick. Additional symptoms can include numbness or tingling in your mouth, headache, dizziness, feeling hot and cold all the time.

              What to do in case of shellfish poisoning? There is not much you can do. It's important to expel the poison from your body. Drink lots of clear fluids to keep hydrated. Antimotility (diarrheic) drugs can have an adverse affect and worsen or lengthen the illness, so do not use them. Do not self-medicate. Store any leftover shellfish in the fridge for possible analysis.

              When should you seek medical treatment? If symptoms persist for several hours without holding down fluids. or in the case of fever or blood in the stool, it's important to get medical treatment!

              • report the consumption of shellfish, including the place and day of fishing
              • if multiple cases of poisoning have presented, the doctor will report it to the public health doctor of the Regional Health Agency
                • further investigation and warnings may be needed to protect the public from contamination

              For medical assistance 24/7 dial #15 or dial @112 for the common emergency telephone number in Europe