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A Local Treasure: The Clam at Home

Clams and Edible Mussels
Courtesy of Joseph Carlin.


Bivalves are organisms with a hinged, two-part shell surrounding a soft body. While oysters, mussels, and scallops are all bivalves, the clam is known for the way it burrows beneath the sand using a muscle called a "foot." Clams do not swim, but spend their lives in the same spot using a set of two siphons to breathe, eat, and excrete. These siphons are long tubes that extend beyond the shell, up through the sand to take in or expel water. If you ever notice spurts of water on a sandy beach, you likely saw a clam excreting water through its siphon up to the surface.





Mya Arenaria
Joseph Carlin

Mya arenaria (soft shell)

"There’s the soft shell clam that’s familiar to us in Essex County, called by many, many different kinds of names: the squirter, the pisser, the Nannynose, and on and on. It has dozens of names. Its Latin name is Mya arenaria and ‘Mya’ means muscle, like ‘myocardial.' And ‘arenaria’ means to hug the beach. So, Mya arenaria is the muscle that hugs the beach. So, the estuary." - Joseph Carlin

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Mercenaria Mercenaria

Mercenaria Mercenaria (Hard Shell or Quahog)

Dave Sargent

“There’s a Quahog, and then there’s also an ocean Quahog. A Quahog is found more inshore. An ocean Quahog is generally found thirty feet below mean-low water to 160 to 200 feet below mean-low water. And they live to be two or three hundred years old. They’re not harvested here locally. They’re harvested off the Mid-Atlantic states, and they’re under the control of the federal government as well as state governments. And they’re harvested by huge hydraulic dredges that harvest them, along with surf clams and sea clams out there, to make Snow’s clam chowder." - Dave Sargent

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Razor Clam

Razor Clams

“Recently,soft-shell clams have been surpassed at times by the harvest of razor clams, and razor clams are starting to become much more economically important.  There’s always been an ethnic market for them in New York and Boston, but now the far east is starting to get involved in purchasing razor clams.  So during an astronomically low tide, many shell fisherman are harvesting razor clams, because usually they’re bringing in around three times the price per pound of soft-shell clams.  Usually, you won’t be harvesting as much in poundage, but the additional price makes up the difference." - Dave Sargent

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Sea Clam or Surf Clam

“The sea clam, or surf clam, or sometimes called hen clam — there’s a huge recreational fishery for that. Usually once a month, when we have astronomically low tides, families will go out to some of our beaches that have sea or surf clams, and they will harvest them. And it’s a great family activity; kids like it because they’re big. And when you bring one back, they feel like they’ve got something. And that was my initial introduction to clamming by my grandparents, you know, in shell fishing and stuff. And it’s fun to harvest them, and dig sea clams, and it’s fun to eat them. The work is actually in cleaning them." - Dave Sargent

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A Local Treasure: The Clam at Home