We really love shelling. There’s nothing we like more than getting that ache in the back from a long morning of doing the “shelling stoop” – you know, the bent over hunch you find yourself positioned in for hours as you obsessively scour through piles of shells that washed up at the shoreline. Anna Maria Island is famous for its shelling opportunities and Lido Beach also has a great reputation for shell collectors finding beautiful, polished “Olive” shells and fascinating “Shark’s Eye” shells. Sanibel and Captiva always get the most recognition as Florida’s top shelling destination, but Sarasota and Bradenton area beaches also provide excellent selections of sea shells.
We love looking for shells on Longboat Key and Bradenton Beach, but we don’t love harvesting shells that inhabit live animals. Here are three things you need to know about Shelling in Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.
It’s the Law! There are Limits to Taking Shells with Live Animals Inside
Many people are not aware that several Florida counties actually have shelling laws that prohibit taking shells with live animals inside. In Manatee County (which includes Anna Maria Island and half of Longboat Key), you are only allowed to take two live shellfish of any species per day, and to do so, you need to have a saltwater fishing license (see next point). Any shellfish that has a live inhabitant includes so many shells you will find during low tide, just before the surf’s break line. If a shell has a live mussel inside, do not disturb. Other animals that are considered “shellfish” include hermit crabs, starfish and sand dollars. You can easily tell if a sand dollar is “alive” – if it is brown and fuzzy, it’s alive, so leave it be.
Also, if you are in a state or national park (like Egmont Key) taking shells with live organisms inside is usually prohibited.
You Need a Fishing License to Harvest Shells with Live Animals
If you do want to take the limit of two live shells, you need to have a recreational saltwater fishing license, but just looking is free.
Sand Dollars are Live Animals too!
Nothing upsets us more than seeing people out on a sandbar collecting buckets of sand dollars! These are live animals, so please put them back. You can tell they are “alive” when they are brown and fuzzy.
Shell Collecting May Be Legal, but Should We?
Food for thought…when there is not an animal inside the shell, you can legally keep it, but should you? Studies have been shown that taking shells from the beach is bad for the beach and its inhabiters. Shells help stabilize the beach and help prevent erosion. Our bird friends use shells to help build their nests and our many other creatures, like crabs, use shells to hide from predators.
Next time you’re out shelling, think before you take. Sometimes, choosing one or two special shells turns out to be more valuable in the long run than taking home buckets full of shells (that often end up in the garbage). We love the quote, “Take only pictures, leave only foot prints.”