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Atlantic surfclams and ocean quahogs, also known as hard clams, are both commercially harvested in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. These clam species are the first in the United States to be managed under an Individual Transferable Quota system, an innovative "catch share" program that allocates shares of the annual harvest to individual fishermen or vessels. When fishermen have a fixed share of the annual harvest, they are able to fish when it is best for them, considering the market, weather conditions, and other factors. This slows the pace of the fishery, making harvesting clams safer, more efficient, profitable, and environmentally-friendly. In addition, clam farms have become a large and valuable shellfish industry. Hard clams are farmed primarily in Virginia, Washington, Florida, Connecticut, and New Jersey, while geoduck clams are primarily farmed in Washington and Alaska. New tools for identifying well-suited sites for shellfish farming are being used to balance shellfish production with the environment, and to determine sites that will have the lowest impact on other uses for the coastal waters, such as recreation.

Atlantic Surfclam

Atlantic Surfclam

The largest bivalves in the western North Atlantic, surfclams support a multimillion-dollar fishery along the East Coast and are the most important commercial clam species harvested in the United States. The United States is the only source for surfclam, which are too big and too coarse to be eaten whole like other clams. Instead, they are sold processed, rather than live, in fresh, frozen, and canned products such as clam strips, minced clams, stuffed clams, chowders, and broth. Not only does the surfclam fishery operate sustainably, but surfclams also offer little waste - two-thirds of the surf clam’s shucked weight is used, and its nectar is a delicacy.

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Hard Clam/Ocean Quahog

Ocean Quahog

Among the longest-lived marine species in the world, ocean quahogs grow slowly and have low reproduction rates, making them relatively unproductive and unable to support high levels of fishing. Knowing this, managers set harvest limits for the fishery at low levels to try to conserve the ocean quahog resource and keep it at target population levels. The large ocean quahogs targeted by the fishery in U.S. federal waters have relatively small, dark, and tough meat and are used in processed clam products such as soups, chowders, and sauces. Smaller ocean quahogs from Maine waters are marketed as “mahogany clams” and are sold on the half-shell market or for steaming.

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Hard Clam/Northern Quahog

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Hard Clam/Northern Quahog

Clam farms have become a large and valuable shellfish industry on the East Coast (over $50 million per year). The United States is the main producer of hard clams, and the majority of production is consumed domestically. Clams are farmed primarily in Virginia, Florida, Washington, and Connecticut. The smaller the clam, the more valuable it is. Smaller clams are typically served steamed or raw, while larger clams, sold for lower value per weight, often appear in chowders. As with all aquaculture practices, care is taken to ensure that the seafood sold is sustainable and safe to eat. Programs and regulations enforce regular monitoring of shellfish practices to provide ocean-friendly seafood to consumers.

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Geoduck

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Geoduck

The name geoduck (“gooey-duck”) comes from a Native American word meaning “dig deep.” This is fitting because geoducks are the world’s largest burrowing clam species, with a shell up to 8 inches and a siphon of up to 3 feet. Because they grow so large, they cannot fit inside their shell like other clams—making them look exceptionally odd. Geoduck farming in the United States began in the 1970s, and some of the same practices and technologies are still used today. After planting, the grow-out stage can take 4 to 7 years for a geoduck to reach a typical harvest size of two pounds. Geoducks burrow deep in the sediment, so harvesting them is a difficult task that has also created a fun recreational industry. Geoducks are a high value species and the majority of geoduck are shipped live overseas to Asia.

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