Sanibel Islands shelling law

Sanibel’s Shelling law

Sanibel Island has a strict shelling law in place that everyone must follow.  Please also keep in mind that this law  not only applies to Sanibel but also to the entire county of Lee.  If you are hunting shells on Fort Myers Beach, Lovers Key, Captiva, Bunch beach, etc.. the law must be followed. Often times, after the winds blow or a good storm comes through, there will be live seashells washed up on the beaches.  In the olden days (pre 1995) these seashells were often taken home, boiled, cleaned , and kept as a memento from that day.  Today that practice is forbidden and all living seashells that wash in or are found on the sandbars are protected and must be left alone.   This is the brief history and details of the Sanibel and Lee county shelling laws and how they came about.

In 1976 (most likely earlier by some) discussions were started on Sanibel about banning the taking of live seashells on Sanibel.  A committee was formed of volunteers and the “Live shelling Committee” began to look into options to preserve the seashells that Sanibel is so known for throughout the world.  After a few years of suggestions and studies, this committee put together a report that suggested the taking of 2 live shells per species per day per person.  This would allow a beachcomber, after a storm or diving, to bring a live shell or 2 home and clean it out for their collection.

The live shell committee in June of 1979 presented the city of Sanibel a brochure that was designed to educate the public of this  but they did not want it really passed into law.  The city went ahead and passed a resolution (79-08) and  brochures and an information campaign were started to let shellers know they should only take the 2 per species per day. There was no real fine or penalty if not followed but most shellers on Sanibel really seemed to follow this rule

This rule was used for years   but there was still many that wanted to ban live shelling on Sanibel all together.  In late 1982 it was looked into again and after years of debate and studies it was decided to actually make it an enforceable law by Florida Fish and Wildlife commission and in late 1987 the Sanibel shell law was passed allowing the taking of 2 per species per day per person.  Now the rule would be enforceable and a fine could be issued.

The biggest problem with this rule is, realistically, if staying on Captiva and not Sanibel, you were still allowed to gather as many live shells are you wanted since Captiva follows the laws of Lee county.  This was the case for another 6 years until, in late 1993, the FWC extended to rule to include all of Lee county and adjacent waters.

All the while there was still that persistent group that really wanted the taking of live seashells prohibited all together.  Finally in 1995 this group was able to get it passed that all live shelling was now prohibited on Sanibel.   This then bought us back to the days of being able to gather  2 living shells from Captiva or Fort Myers Beach but not Sanibel.  In 2000, Fort Myers Beach put in a similar law to  Sanibels  prohibiting the taking of live shells also.  It was not until 2002 that the no live shelling law was extended to include all of Lee county.

Since 2002 In Lee County, you may not harvest or possess any living mollusks or echinoderms  except for oysters, hard clams (quahogs), sunray venus clams and coquinas.  The actually law can be read here along with other regulations for fishing and the listed shells.  A $500 fine and 60 days in jail could be the penalty for breaking this law