Crawfish, Lobster, Clam: Can You Eat It If It Died?

Foraging for food in the natural environment is part of homesteading, prepping, and survival, but caution needs to be exercised in some instances when harvesting directly from nature! Harvesting from the sea or from rivers can provide a great source of food, but what happens if some of your catch dies before you get home? Can you still safely eat crawfish, lobster, or clams if they have died?

You can eat a dead crawfish or lobster if it has not been dead for long and if you harvested it yourself. Harvesting it yourself, you would know that it was alive when you caught it, and it can be eaten in a short time after. If refrigerated, a dead crawfish or lobster can last a day or so. Dead clams, on the other hand, should never be eaten if they were harvested dead or died in transit to your cooking area!

Most of us have heard the unpleasant horror stories of someone who has eaten shellfish or seafood that wasn’t fresh. The outcome can be rather unpleasant and even dangerous, particularly in the wilderness. Let’s take a look at what to look out for in these circumstances and what you should avoid when it comes to this type of foraged food!

Foraging For Crawfish

First of all, we need to define what a crawfish is. You may hear of crayfish and crawfish and wonder what the difference is. Essentially, crawfish and crayfish are one and the same creature. The difference in the name is regional, with crawfish being a variation of the name mostly used in the southern states of the USA. In the central and southwest regions of the USA, it is also known as a crawdad.

Crayfish is used pretty much everywhere else, but refers to the same creature as the name crawfish!

A crawfish is basically a small lobster, but the difference is not only in size. Crawfish live in freshwater environments and can be found in clean rivers and lakes in America, Europe, and Australia.

Crawfish can be found in the muddy bottoms of these bodies of water where they live under rocks or in crevices, and often burrow tunnels into the mud to raise their young in the breeding season.

How To Catch Crawfish

Crawfish can be caught by hand if you are quick! You can wade in a shallow rocky stream-bed and turn over rocks with one hand while, with the other hand, you grab any crawfish hiding underneath. You can also use a small hand net to catch them in a similar way. The hand net you can fashion using your bushcraft skills with a bushcraft knife, a couple of sticks, and a piece of cloth such as a t-shirt.

These methods are slow and take some practice, which is why the most common way of catching them is in a baited trap.

Can You Eat A Dead Crawfish?

Normally when crawfish are harvested, they are kept alive until they are cooked, and there is good reason for this.

If you caught the crawfish yourself and they were all alive, and you eat them within an hour or so of catching them, then you will probably be ok with eating the ones that have died.

The key to eating crawfish is to cook them as soon as you can after you have caught them. Once a crawfish dies, it starts to decay rapidly, where bacteria set in, and the crawfish may have died because it was ill in the first place.

Those who eat crawfish on a regular basis say that the possibility of getting sick from eating dead crawfish is not the only reason for not eating them. Eating a crawfish that was dead before you boiled it will taste tough and gritty, and not have much flavor.

The traditional way to tell if a crawfish was alive or dead when it was cooked is to inspect the tail. If the tail is curled up tight, then the crawfish was alive when it was cooked. If the tail is straight, then the crawfish was dead when it was put in the boiling water.

If you are in circumstances where you need to use your survival skills, it is not advisable to eat anything that could potentially make your sick, particularly if you are injured or have a limited clean water supply. If you are simply harvesting crawfish on your homestead, the risk of getting sick from eating a dead crawfish is probably minimal.

If you have not caught the crawfish yourself, but have bought them, then it is advisable to discard the dead ones because you don’t know how long they have been dead for.

Foraging For Lobster

Lobsters are the larger saltwater dwelling relatives of the crawfish. They are also bottom dwellers and are usually found under rocks or in crevices on the ocean floor.

Lobsters prefer fairly shallow water, in some instances as shallow as 13-feet (4m), as long as they have a rocky bottom, which provides them with shelter.

How To Catch Lobster

This makes them well within reach of a person without scuba gear. A mask and snorkel will make it easier to forage for these animals, but with some perseverance and practice, you could catch them without this gear.

A makeshift survival spear, created with your bushcraft knife, will make it easier to extricate them from their rock homes without getting pinched by their substantial claws. There are species of lobster without claws, and they are sometimes erroneously called crayfish. They are, however, true lobsters, just without claws.

Lobster can also be caught with baited traps, but the changing tides make this a little more challenging to accomplish. The size of the lobster makes one or two lobsters a good meal, so you don’t need to catch large quantities of them each time. Only catch what you can eat in one meal.

Can You Eat A Dead Lobster?

The rules around eating a dead lobster would be similar to that of eating dead crawfish. Lobster starts to degrade rapidly after death, and the texture and flavor of the meat will be compromised soon after the death of the animal.

The heat will quickly degrade the meat of the lobster, so if it has been exposed to the sun for a while after it died, it would be wise to rather discard the animal.

If you have caught the lobster yourself, and you intend to cook it within an hour, then you should be fine. Anything longer than that, then the dead lobster should be chilled as soon as possible.

In a survival situation, you are unlikely to have access to refrigeration facilities, so don’t try to keep a dead lobster for hours before cooking. If refrigerated, soon after death, the lobster can be kept and cooked within a day or so.

If you have bought the lobster and are uncertain how long it has been dead for and whether or not it had been refrigerated, then it is not worth the risk to cook and eat it.

Foraging For Clams

Clams are a shellfish that are found in the beach-line that is exposed at low tide, which makes foraging for them easy at times when the tides are low. Freshwater clams can be found in the muddy sections along riverbanks or lakes.

There are, however, hidden dangers in eating clams that you need to be aware of before you forage for them.

In populated areas, certain beaches will be demarcated by authorities as unsafe to forage from. This could be due to polluted waters or the vibrio bacteria, which may be prevalent in the coastal waters of that beach.

Vibrio bacteria is a bacteria that is found naturally in certain coastal waters and infects clams. Infected clams can make you extremely sick and possibly cause death. Cooking infected clams will kill the bacteria and make them suitable for consumption, but only if they have been cooked at a minimum temperature of 145F (63C) for at least 15 seconds.

Polluted water can also adversely affect the clams and make them dangerous for human consumption. Toxins from pollutants cannot be removed by cooking and will remain toxic to humans even if cooked.

If you are in a survival-type situation, you won’t know if the beach is safe to eat from or not. It would therefore be prudent to rather seek out other sources of protein that would be less potentially harmful to you.

Can You Eat A Dead Clam?

The way to determine if a clam is dead or not is if the clam is open, give it a tap on the shell. The clam should immediately close. If it does not, it is dead and should be thrown out. After cooking, all the clams should open up. Discard the ones that did not open during the cooking process.

Clams that float, have a hole in their shell, or a cracked shell, are usually dead and should be rejected and not used as part of your meal!

The bottom line is that you should never eat a dead clam; the risks are simply not worth it. Clams start to decompose really quickly once dead and even faster if exposed to heat, such as sunlight.

In a survival situation, I would think twice about eating live clams simply because you do not know the condition of the water they were harvested from. Dead clams should not be consumed under any circumstances, whether in a survival situation or not!

If you are located in the vicinity of a body of water, there would usually be other forms of meat that you could harvest that would be less risky to your health to consume, and I would rather try one of these sources before taking the risk on clams!


Hunger can tempt people to try things that they have never done before, and in a survival situation, that temptation can be even stronger. However, in circumstances where survival knowledge is required, it would be more prudent to stick to eating foraged food that you are familiar with rather than trying something you are unsure of.

Eating any aquatic animal that you find dead on the shoreline is probably going to give you more problems than what it will solve! Rather do not take the risk and rely on your honed bushcraft skills to find a less risky form of survival food!

Risking severe, potentially life-threatening illness will only make a survival situation that much more difficult!

Clams in these circumstances should always be approached with caution and avoided completely if possible. Crawfish or lobster would be a much safer proposition for a meal and would be my choice over clams!

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