The Quick Report

Mom Fined $89K After Family Visits California Beach

It was a typical day at the beach for this mother and her five children. There was sun, sand, and endless waves. Washed-up treasures of all kinds were scattered across the beach. Beautiful shells drew the kids’ eyes, and of course, they started picking up souvenirs to bring home.

Except this didn’t end up being a typical day at the beach. Shortly afterward, this mother of five got the shock of her life — a fine of $88,993.

Kids make innocent mistakes collecting seashells

A Fresno mother says her family outing to Pismo Beach, California, was ruined when she received an $88,993 fine in the mail, all because her kids made an innocent mistake while collecting seashells.

Charlotte Russ took her children to the California beach known as the “Clam Capital of the World.”

people standing on beach during sunset
Photo by Tobias Smietana

As most children enjoy doing when visiting the beach, Charlotte’s five kids spent some time collecting seashells at the clamming hotspot.

But her children unknowingly picked up 72 clams during their hunt for shells. The kids thought the clams were simply seashells like any other along the shore.

The family was stopped by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. The officers told Charlotte that her kids were collecting clams without a fishing license and issued her a ticket.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Fish and Game Code Section 7145), anyone 16 years of age or older must possess a valid sports fishing license when taking any fish, shellfish, reptile, or amphibian in California.

Shocking fine arrives in the mail

Some days later, Charlotte Russ received a fine in the mail ordering her to pay a whopping $88,993.

“It made me really sad and depressed, and it kind of ruined our trip,” Charlotte told a reporter from ABC 7 in Los Angeles. She added that the experience taught her and her children a valuable lesson about wildlife regulations.

“They know now at the beach don’t touch anything,” Charlotte continued. “They know now what a clam is compared to what a seashell is now.”

“It was definitely one expensive trip to Pismo,” Charlotte added. “Unforgettable.”

Clams on Sandy Hook beaches -

Clamming regulations

There are other regulations in place at Pismo Beach. It is home to the Pismo Clam and the Pacific Razor Clam. Pismo Beach regulations only allow people to take 10 Pismo clams per day. Further, they must measure at least 4 1/2 inches in length to be possessed. They can only be clammed 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset. However, The Pacific Razor Clam can be taken at all times during the year with a limit of 20 per person.

“The reason…we have these regulations is because we have to let them [Pismo clams] get to 4½ inches so they can spawn, so they can have offspring every year, and they have juvenile clams,” Lt. Matthew Gil said in an interview.

Lt. Gil said that it’s important to educate yourself and your children before going to the beach. “If you have a dead sand dollar, a dead animal, or something like that, or you have a broken seashell, that’s fine.”

“Pismo clams – what you’re gonna see is both shells will be intact together,” Lt. Gil added. “If you can’t take them apart very easily, it’s a clam.”

Mother fights the fine in court

Charlotte decided to fight the fine in court. At least four of her kids, perhaps all five, appear to be under the age of 16, and would not be required to possess a fishing license according to California law.

A San Luis Obispo County judge knocked her fine down to $500.

Making light of the mix-up, Charlotte said she got a shellfish tattooed on her arm to remember the situation after she “won” her case.