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Sustainable Seafood: Have You Tasted Whelks?


As an environmentally-conscious shopper, you're eager to do your part in selecting sustainable seafood for dinner. Unfortunately selecting sustainable seafood can be a bit tricky at times so let me make it easy for you - try whelks!

Why whelks? You may ask. Well, whelks, which at one time were referred to as just "by-catch" (caught by accident in lobster traps) are increasingly being sought since wild seafood stocks are dwindling due to extreme overfishing, but there are plenty of whelks in the sea, they're easy to harvest, and they taste good. Whelks are a great sustainable option. So why not give them a try?

Keep reading to find out more about the whelk, how they taste, some interesting facts, how to cook 'em and how to eat 'em. And don't forget to test your knowledge about overfishing at the end of this article.


Fishing Sustainability Tip

Don't eat:

  • immature whelks (those that measure less than 1.77 inches or 4.5 cm)
  • whelks in the fall or winter, which is their breeding season

Facts About Whelks


  • Are a type of sea snail. Their scientific name is Buccinum undatum.
  • Live for up to 15 years.
  • Are large marine gastropods. There are over 60,000 gastropod species.
  • Reach sexual maturity at 5-7 years.
  • Are sometime used by fishermen as bait.
  • Live on rocks or in networks of caves.
  • A single whelk colony can reach up to four million whelks.
  • Are sometimes mistakenly referred to as conch shells, whereas they're not. The best way to distinguish the two is to remember that whelks live in temperate climates, whereas conch thrives in tropical climates.
  • Are those shells that you put up to your ears and hear the ocean! Remember doing that as a kid?
  • Are common pub food in Great Britain and are popular in France, where they're enjoyed with mayo and are called bulots. In France, where I had them for the first time, they're sold already cooked at seafood stalls.
  • Are high in protein, iron and Omega 3.
You can find whelks at your local Asian market. This photo was taken at a market in Japan.

You can find whelks at your local Asian market. This photo was taken at a market in Japan.

Cooking Welks

To cook live whelks, you will need to boil them for no more than 10 minutes.

When you taste whelks, you'll find that they're similar to clams. They have a similar texture and are a bit chewy. But if you overcook them, you'll find them to be very chewy - like a piece of rubber!

They're excellent for making chowder or steaming them with some spices on their own. They also get pickled in vinegar and spices. No matter how you plan on preparing whelks, first you'll need to steam them to cook the meat.


How to Eat Whelks

Once your whelks are cooked, you will need either a small fork or a toothpick to get the meaty part out.

Poke the meaty part of the whelk and twist it gently out of the shell (as to not break the meaty part). Cut off the very top part of the whelk (it's crusty and darker) and pop the whelk into your mouth. Whelks taste best when they're warm, so enjoy!

Test your knowledge about overfishing!

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Scientists predict that if we continue fishing as we are now, most seafood will be gone from the oceans by which year?
    • 2018
    • 2048
    • 2088
    • 2118
  2. What percentage of the oceans' commercially targeted marine fish stocks are fished beyond ecologically safe limits?
    • 9%
    • 29%
    • 49%
    • 69%
  3. What is overfishing?
    • Fishing more than the annual catch quota
    • Fish populations depleted due to environmental changes, habitat degradation, or other
    • None of the above
  4. According to the NOAA, what percentage of the US fish stocks were subject to overfshing in 2009?
    • 4
    • 8
    • 12
    • 16
  5. Which fish is one of the most overfished species on Earth and believed to be on the verge or of collapse?
    • Atlantic salmon
    • Atlantic cod
    • Atlantic bluefin tuna
    • Atlantic mackerel

Answer Key

  1. 2048
  2. 69%
  3. Fishing more than the annual catch quota
  4. 16
  5. Atlantic bluefin tuna


Stephen Chu on March 01, 2019:

I ate Bulots all the time in France. Tastes like Howard Johnson's tender sweet clams in the 1960s. Bulots cost about one Dollar a pound in , Normandy,like Dieppe. In Honolulu Bulots cost 17 dollars a pound but theirs are without the shell. The shell weighs a lot.

Anna (author) from New York, NY on September 04, 2012:

Thank you, Brian for stopping by and leaving your comment. I hope whelks become available in your area soon!

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on September 04, 2012:

I'll try whelks as soon as they become available on restaurant menus in the Midwest and in the supermarkets. I'm glad to learn about them. Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared.

Anna (author) from New York, NY on August 03, 2012:

Lady rain - if you liked clams then you should try whelks when you come across them. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Dinkan - You're right about whelks being healthy. I hope you get a chance to try them. Thanks for stopping by and your comment.

K9 - I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub and that whelks have made it to the top of your list! They are an excellent pick, sustainability-wise. HubHugs to you too!

India Arnold from Northern, California on July 30, 2012:

I love discovering new culinary choices, and Whelks now top the list for me! They look beautiful in the bowl and sound delightful on the palette. I really think it is wonderful that you include information on overfishing and ecological importance of sustainable food sources within your quiz! Voting Up for sure!


dinkan53 from India on July 30, 2012:

Heard about those marine snails, but never had a chance to try it. They are rich in protein, iron and vitamins. Thanks for sharing this interesting hub. Voted up and interesting.

lady rain from Australia on July 30, 2012:

I have not tried whelks before but I have eaten boiled clams so I have a fair idea what whelks are going to taste like. Interesting hub!

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