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Rockpooling & Foraging.

A great activity to enjoy on holiday in Brittany, foraging for shellfish will delight young and old alike.

It is a well-known pastime among Bretons, as our rich and varied coastline offers up numerous species of shellfish, notably molluscs and crustaceans, and at low tide people of all ages can be seen milling along the shoreline and over boulders, turning over rocks and stones, foraging in the seaweed, or digging in the wet sand in search of a tasty morsel…

La pêche à pied à Quiberon
photo by Philip Plisson who is featured in our Partner pages, site web www.pecheurdimages.com

Talk to a born and bred Breton of ‘la pêche à pied’ and a hundred childhood memories will surface, remembering exciting moments of discovery from nature’s bounty and, even when the pickings were slim, never going home empty-handed. They will tell of the pleasure of learning the techniques and the best spots from their grandfather, as well as a strong respect for nature.

For example, if you move any stones or rocks or seaweed when exploring a rockpool, it is vital to put them back in their place, exactly how you found them, even the same way up, in order to cause as little disturbance as possible to the teeming community of microorganisms and larvae which cling to the rocks.

Les moules

The coast of Brittany experiences pronounced tides along its length, the greatest being in the stretch near Mont St Michel and Saint Malo, where the tidal range reaches 15 metres. And when the receding waters leave large sections of the seabed exposed, sometimes all the way to little off-shore islands, the sands and rockpools give themselves up to human explorers and foragers – and what treasures they find!

La pêche à pied
photo by Philip Plisson who is featured in our Partner pages, site web www.pecheurdimages.com

A single rockpool can seem a magical place to children, transfixed watching wriggling shrimps, majestic sea anemones, tiny crabs, multicoloured seaweed, and all sorts of shells. No need to be an expert fisherman; a simple bucket of water can hold a veritable microcosm of life. It’s a great lesson in what nature can provide, and what must be preserved for generations to come. Remember the devastation caused in modern times by oil slicks, polluting the Breton coast and killing wildlife.

St Cast
photo by Philip Plisson who is featured in our Partner pages, site web www.pecheurdimages.com

But returning to the subject, according to legislation, ‘la pêche à pied’ is defined as fishing along the shoreline in publicly accessible places, either on the water’s edge or in the water up to waist level. A boat must not be used other than to access the chosen site. The term also encompasses the gathering of ‘fruits de mer’, a French expression which translates as seafood in a culinary context, but also has a wider meaning to refer to something which tastes of the sea, of saltiness and brine.

fruits de mer

In Brittany, good restaurants will often offer a seafood platter on their menu, usually comprising a range of shellfish such as oysters, various types of clams and mussels. They may also include scallops, sea urchins, different varieties of cockles, and not forgetting sea snails and whelks… and many other seafood delicacies may be added depending on the area of Brittany where you are dining.

fruits de mer

And, of course, crowning the platter will be crustaceans: prawns, all types of crab - including spider crab, velvet crab and brown crab - and the lord of the Breton seas himself, the blue lobster.


Obviously it depends on your budget, and the choice offered by the restaurant, but a seafood platter is usually a truly eye-catching dish. It is accompanied by bread and salted butter, mayonnaise, vinaigrette, fresh lemon, and often a shallot sauce. In terms of wines, a muscadet from the Loire or the Alsace is a perfect companion, but a rosé or a red wine can also suit.


The best time to start gathering is one hour before low tide, in order to take full advantage of the retreating waters. However these days you will be lucky to collect enough for a full meal, although a few do still manage! Back in the 1970s and beyond, plenty could be collected along the shore at low tide, but the resources are no longer as abundant, and the older generation can testify to the rarefaction of coastal species.


This is also why gathering shellfish is regulated by maritime police in the same way as fishing, and these days we also take ecological considerations into account. The tackle and implements used are also regulated, and there are limitations on the number of a particular species that can be collected, as well as their minimum size. Checks are made, and those contravening the regulations are fined. Sometimes it may be prohibited to collect a certain species, for example if the population is diseased or if they are becoming rare, as was the case with the abalone, a delicious mollusc which was being overfished. Some species are protected and others are prohibited for health reasons, often temporary in nature. The fishing season is sometimes limited to certain times of year, as for St Jacques scallops for example.

The inhabitants of our coastline that can be collected are numerous, all sorts of edible shellfish, some especially tasty and sought after, such as razor shell clams, venus clams, dog cockle, scallops, whelks, sea snails, and not forgetting the more well-known ones like oysters and mussels.

Also caught in our waters are flat fishes, weever fish, sand and conger eels, plaice, sole, turbot, as well as octopus and cuttlefish, not forgetting different types of lobster, langouste (crayfish) and langoustine (scampi), many different crab species, and last but not least the ever popular prawn which is found in Brittany’s North Atlantic waters…

fruits de mer

Gathering shellfish needs to be done at low tide, so please consult a tide timetable. These are widely available in Brittany, in all bookshops and newsagents, in newspapers, and also online. The best opportunity is during an extremely low spring tide, when the sea retreats further back than normal and exposes as yet unexplored territory to would-be hunters… and it’s first come first served! A little piece of advice, just between us… aim to arrive an hour before the low tide time…

Plage du Sillon St Malo
photo by Philip Plisson who is featured in our Partner pages, site web www.pecheurdimages.com

I hope you enjoy our beautiful Breton coast, and happy foraging!