Whelks are a type of sea snail that range from 3 -9 inches long, and are native to our very own Southern California coasts. Found from Baja to Monterey, these sea snails live in the same zones of some of our other favorite treats (like California Spiny Lobsters and Dungeness Crabs) since they are attracted to the same bait. This leads to much more of their capture than is intentional, though, as bycatch of lobster and crab traps. The World Wildlife Foundation defines bycatch as incidental capture of non-target species, which happens when fishermen lower down a rectangular wire cage, full of bait, intended to attract lobsters and crabs through its one way entrance. When the trap is pulled back up a day or so later, the fisherman also frequently find our whelks in addition to these crustaceans.
Referred to as the poor man’s abalone by The Spruce, the tender and succulent meat of whelks is loved in a variety of cuisines. Delicious and easy to cook, taking no more than ten minutes to boil, they are a big hit to many. Those who enjoy Italian cuisine may have a soft spot in their hearts for whelks already, better known as scungilli in Italian dishes. If French cuisine is a little more your speed, you may know these sea snails better as bulots. Widely available at French markets, Behind the French Menu tells us that pairing these bulots with fresh mayonnaise gives you a beloved French meal. At Trashfish, our favorite way to prepare Santa Barbara whelks is with a Chef Huntley See’s roasted garlic preserve or Coldwater Canyon’s Jalapeno Chipotle Jelly.