The Sea Forager lives in harmony with the rise and fall of the ocean tides. Kirk and Camilla Lombard are the founders of Sea Forager Tours & Seafood Co. based out of their backyard – the Pacific Ocean. Kirk lovingly refers to Camilla as “the fishwife.” The moniker is fitting after hearing her seagull-like warning calls used to alert Kirk of the rising tidewaters. It is Camilla who answers my call to inquire about joining their family on a Mega Low Tide Expedition Tour of Half Moon Bay.
Kirk Lombard is the author of The Sea Forager’s Guide to the Northern California Coast. Pacific Ocean water courses through his veins, yet he has fond memories of fly fishing for trout in his youth with his grandfather in upstate New York. His many years spent as a fisheries observer for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission trained Kirk in the way that only firsthand experience can. As if Kirk’s sea savvy wasn’t enough to impress the most knowledgeable angler, his deep respect and passion for ethical and sustainable fishing is still more inspiring. Sea Forager Seafood is a community-supported fishery (CSF) program with delivery locations around the Bay Area and South Bay that also offers coastal fishing and foraging classes. The following disclaimer on their website says it all: “Sustainability demands that we collaborate with local fishermen and appreciate the capricious whims of the ocean.”
In other words, it’s sustainably caught fish or bust for the Lombards. Kirk’s consistent demonstrations of respect for the sea are apparent throughout the morning I spent with his family. He fills all his freshly dug clam holes and releases tasty catches smaller than legal size. Others may not care, but Kirk does. He writes in his book, “The idea of harvesting food from nature has become increasingly popular. The resources will be far better off if we act as stewards rather than as takers and exploiters.” Kirk Lombard walks his talk.
Heigh Ho, A-Hunting We Will Go
After scooping up a fat-tire stroller, Kirk, Camilla and their two young children, Django and Penelope, step into the early morning sludge of the minus tide at Half Moon Bay. Rubber boots are mandatory as is a big dose of childlike wonderment. Kirk and Django promptly begin squishing their fingertips on sand holes to release the squirt of the clam living deep underneath. Camilla and Penelope jump, jive and dance to create the necessary vibrations which cause the clam to withdraw its siphon deeper into its sandy depth, thereby unwittingly revealing its hiding spot with one quick water fountain. Time to start digging deep! A shovel does the trick at the outset before setting the clam tube in to dig by hand. At the key moment, Django readies himself to be lowered upside down into the tube to pull out Neptune’s buried treasure – a huge Horseneck clam. Kirk and Django light up as though this is their first seaside scavenger hunt together, yet the trust between father and son reveals a seasoned ritual of clam digging. “It’s a big one. Let’s put it in the bucket.”
I marvel at the size and wonder how one cooks such a huge clam with its thick siphon. The siphon is that long tube-like tail sticking out of the clam which it uses for breathing, locomotion and feeding. “You must pound it and chop it of course, and put it in the Crock-Pot!” The Fishwife’s Crock-Pot Manhattan Chowder is the perfect salve for any hungry Horseneck hunter (see recipe.)
California clam diggers are required by law to fill in their holes after clamming. Clams need tightly packed mud to travel and feed; loosely packed mudflats become clam-less ones. After Kirk fills in his holes, we walk farther out towards the rock jetty. Kirk stops to suck up a few ghost shrimps for bait, using a homemade PVC pipe pump. He suddenly drops to his knees and starts digging. Ever the teacher, Kirk employs Django’s assistance and together they uncover the magical moon snail. Years of trial and error in the kitchen have taught Kirk that this meat is not so tender or tasty, so he carefully restores the Moon Snail back to its hiding spot.
Once we reach the jetty rocks, Django and Kirk pull out bamboo poke poles, which Kirk baits with a piece of squid while his son waits in anticipation of catching an eel or rockfish. Django’s first bite catches him by surprise. It’s a rock crab, which Kirk claims are more delicious than the famous Dungeness, but it’s not of legal size so he tosses it back. Suddenly, I hear the distant cry of a seagull’s caw. It’s the call of the fishwife; she’s warning us the tide has risen significantly. Kirk takes Django on his back to make their way to the flats, satisfied with the morning’s gifts. To observe firsthand a family foraging for sea treasures with such respect for the ocean and its creatures makes a lasting impression.
Story and photos by Yvonne Cornell. This article was first published in the Summer 2017 issue of EDIBLE Silicon Valley magazine.