The Rules About Collecting Seashells in Florida

Sometimes a reader asks about the legal side of seashell collecting here in Florida. I’ll be honest and I never really thought much about it. I know from living near the East coast of the state, I never heard anything about shell-collecting rules. It could be because my area simply does not have many shells along the public beach. No one really gives them much thought.

Rule #1. Never collect anything that is alive. A shell filled with something (mollusk or crab) is a home to that animal. Leave it where you found it.

Pen Shell

These days when you pass the beach ramp stands and pay your way, the person in the booth lists off the beach rules. Drive slow, windows down, radio off, trash in the cans, stay off the dunes, etc. – something to that effect. She says nothing about collecting seashells.

My own personal rule has always been not to collect anything living. Taking a living creature away from it’s ocean habitat will kill it. That, to me, is common sense. I’ve come across some beautiful shells I would love to have collected, but photos will do nicely. Take a lot of them and then say good-bye.

Often I have taken some fun photos of the creature inside the shells too, as was the case when we found big horse conchs on offshore islands while boating.

broken whelk on the beach
Broken whelk on the beach at Ponce Inlet

The Laws on Sea Shell Collecting

Read this page at FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) entitled “Recreational Sea Shell Collecting” says in part that a Florida saltwater fishing license is required to keep any living seashells collected anywhere, including onshore.

So this sounds as if I could keep living shells, because I have a fishing license. I wouldn’t want to, and there are exclusions that apply in certain counties.

Also state parks may be governed by their own rules, but I have never read anything about seashells and collecting them. To be safe, always check the rules for the specific park before you visit.

Prohibited Sea Life

The Bahama Starfish and Queen Conch are always prohibited, unless the Queen conch shell is already empty. It’s unlikely you would find this shell just sitting on the beach! I’ve seen video from the Bahamas where people dive down and collect the queen conchs to pull the meat out and eat. Conch is something served in restaurants where tropical type fare is eaten.

Strombus gigas
Queen conch, bought in Florida- 1980’s -I no longer buy seashells

Don’t Plan to Make Money From Seashells

My only plan to make money from seashells was in using my photography for products I designed in my Zazzle store, Millhill. Over the years I have sold some of my photography, but it’s not a big money maker. My seashell images are only a small part of what I design and sell. I do not sell shells, nor do I want to. I’ve bought shells, like the conch above, back when I didn’t know any better.

If you are searching for ways to sell your shells, or make money from collecting seashells, this is the wrong blog for you. Some readers have left comments asking me about this. I write here to inform others, and end up learning a lot myself from my research.

Sea life is pretty amazing, and I enjoy sharing my photos. I especially think of the many people who never, or seldom ever, get to visit the ocean.

I’ve read some pretty horrible blogs that tell you making money by selling shells is possible. One blogger wrote that live seashells were worth the most! What? If you collect a living mollusk it will die, but maybe he was referring to selling it to an aquarium owner. I don’t know, but I believe in letting these amazing creatures live in their own wild habitat. They have it hard enough without people stepping in and collecting them.

I have come across some really awesome shells in my area that I would have loved to add to my small collection. The beautiful knobbed whelk that I found out on an island was one such shell. It was broken, but look at that color and size! The mollusk that built it was gone, but a big hermit crab was tucked way down inside! I took photos and put it back into the water.

Taking Seashells Back Home From Vacation

Florida is a tourist state. Visitors come here year round. Many of them stay on or near the beaches, or at least visit the beach at some point.

The Gulf coast is known for it’s abundance of seashells because the water is calmer and shells are deposited like treasure along the coastline. Of course, it’s where everyone wants to go and the area has become extremely overcrowded. For this reason I am glad my side of the state is not known for seashell collecting. It’s crowded enough here without all that!

If you want to bring souvenir beach shells back home with you and have to fly, it’s okay to pack them in checked bags – as far as I know. Check with the TSA, since rules and regulations change quickly in this world.

If you are interested, Pam at “i love shelling” has some good advice for packing shells to keep them safe from breaking on the journey home.

Skittle the cat with two big horse conch seashells found empty out on the islands at low tide
Two horse conch shells and Skittle the Cat

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9 thoughts on “The Rules About Collecting Seashells in Florida

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  2. Fl Native

    In addition to not taking anything living, don’t take excess. Certain shells do become homes (like the hermit crab). Also beach sand is naturally made from the crushed shells. Taking a few specimens is always better than buckets.

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  6. susurrus

    An interersting and informative post. My sweetheart’s old rescue dog once pulled a shell out of the sea. We were amazed as he didn’t do tricks or play with sticks or do anything much to command. We didn’t really look at the shell, but put it in the car. About twenty minutes later, we discovered it was alive, so had to quickly return it! Evidently Rusty was a fisherdog.

    1. Pam

      What a story! Good thing you realized it was living before you got too far from shore. The dog must have known it was something living – maybe he is a rescue dog and thought he was saving it!
      I’ve had to return to the river when I discovered that a shell I brought home had a hermit crab inside. One time, I wrote about it, the shell was so broken I didn’t believe anything could be inside. I was wrong! Those hermits can really squash themselves down inside.

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