Growing up in a small coastal town, I’ve learnt there are many ways to find food along the coast, if you know where to look. Especially along the shore line and the tidal areas, there’s a wealth of food just waiting to be harvested that can keep your stomach full in a SHTF event. And that’s before you start setting traps for the fish.
The trick, with all things, is to build experience, learn what to look for, and spend your time poking around. You will need a pair of shoes that you don’t mind getting a little wet, a net bag to keep everything you’ve collected, a short pole spear for any fish, a knife to kill your catch, and a screwdriver for prying off the shells and abalone.
Ready to get into it?
Start with the seaweed
Seaweed is one of the easiest edibles to harvest from the tidal rock pools, it’s plentiful, and a great source of vitamins and minerals when food is scarce. Sea lettuce looks exactly what it sounds like, and nori is probably the tastiest you’ll find, if you’ve ever had sushi rolls, this nori is usually the seaweed wrapper holding it all together. Simple wade through the rock pools, and cut it loose. When you get it home it’ll need to be sun dried, in a tray or on a line, and it works well in both salads and soups.
Catch the crabs
Without any bait the scurrying little crabs are going to be difficult to catch, so keep an eye out for anything along the shore line you can use as bait. If all else fails, I’ll crack a couple of rock oysters and use these on a line. The crabs will come in, latch on, and you’ll be able to slowly and gently pull them towards you, then just grab them (using your hands or a small container) when they’re in reach. Small crabs can be fried and eaten whole, while larger ones will have harder shells and you may want to crack these to get at the meat.
Poke for octopus
One bit of marine life that likes intertidal pools is the octopus. Able to survive in just inches of water at low tide, they will take up residence in a crevice underneath a rock waiting for the tide to return. Camouflaged to look like the surrounding rocks, they can be impossible to spot, to catch them you need to start poking. With the butt end of your spear, give any holes or cracks a good poke. A startled octopus will shoot out a jet of black ink, then it’s just a matter of getting it out with your spear to enjoy some fresh calamari.
Pop the shellfish
Another treat that’s not going anywhere is the shellfish. You’ll find everything from abalone to oysters, clams, mussels and more. Though with these in particular, there’s certain seasonal restrictions. In the United States, a rough rule of thumb is that in a cold month with an “r” in it, generally it’ll be safe to eat. But use your common sense here, if it seems off or it has an odd smell, you may want to give it a miss. Personally, I’m a big fan of abalone, and I’ll get as much of this as I (legally) can, though you need to get in quick with your screwdriver or a knife and “pop” them off quickly before they really grab hold.
Dig for cockles
One you can get your kids helping with is digging for cockles. As the tide runs out, you can use your feet or your hands to stir up the sand as the waves rush through, and pull out any of the shells you find. Cockles are a bivalve shell, kind of like a clam, and are good eating, and you can also use them for bait if you’re planning any fishing later in the day. Sometimes you’ll even stir up a sand crab or two as you’re doing this, so keep an eye out!
Trap the fish
This one takes a little preparation, but it can pay off immensely if you get it right. Look for a tidal pool that’s large enough to hold a deep pool of water once the tide is out, but remains cut off from the ocean. Kind of like a rock-pool jacuzzi. If there’s nothing suitable, you could always build one up with some rocks if you’ve got enough time to kill.
Your goal, is to attract a bunch of fish to this spot, while the water’s high enough to get in, with the hope they get into a feeding frenzy then get stuck as the tide drops. What we normally do is take old fish bones from a previous day’s catch, in a mesh bag with a large rock or two to weigh it down. While the tide is still high, drop it into the target spot, then sit back and wait. If you’re lucky, there will be a couple of decent sized fish attracted to the bait, but unable to escape once the tide drops. Catch them with a hand spear, and enjoy.
Even without gear, or a whole lot of training, the ocean is a plentiful resource and can provide an ample supply of food once the SHTF. The trick is to know where to look, get to areas that aren’t frequented by many people, and take the time to harvest things like seaweed and shellfish and crabs that maybe others have overlooked. Because you don’t want to go hungry in a crisis, and with a little ingenuity you won’t have to.