Skip to content

A Way of Life: Digging for Clams

Clam Diggers of Plum Island
Courtesy of Joseph Carlin.


Not only is clamming physically demanding, it also takes a winning combination of grit and love. The modern digger’s life revolves around the daily tides, rainfall, and the natural cycles of aquatic life.
Dave Sargent

“I really enjoyed the sense of freedom.  It isn’t really the free uncomplicated existence that you’d like to believe it is. But the nice thing about it is it’s honest work if you do it right. And what you make at the end of the tide, at the end of the day, is honest, and that’s what you sell. You know, you can’t lie, and B.S. your way, and saying that you produced more than you did, and get paid for that.

When rainfall closures came into effect, it resulted in the fact that you might be open tomorrow, but not open for another month, which created this sort of gold rush type. So it creates a different environment. There are very few people now who shellfish as a stand-alone type of occupation, because of the uncertainty of when their next paycheck might be coming in. Usually they’ll combine that with landscaping, or carpentry, or painting houses, or some other activity, so that if they are closed for a period of time there is something else that they can be doing in the meantime in order to try to make ends meet.” - Dave Sargent

Listen to the full audio clip.


"Record for Digging Clams" from Franklyn Goucher's memoirs

Franklyn E. Goucher

"How many people know the record for the amount of clams dug in Essex and who set it? Maybe three or four.

The aforementioned Joe Farnham did.

Back in 1923, he dug seventy-three bushels in five days on a clam flat called Marshall's Nub. An average of slightly over fourteen and a half bushels per day. Eight bushels the first morning tide and nine in the afternoon. The next day it was nine in the morning and eight in the afternoon. Thirty four bushels the first two days. ($1 per bushel)

He fixed the record alright but the record pretty nearly fixed him.

The next day being pay day, his dory mate Jesse Fuller called at the house for him but found him too exhausted to get out of bed. 'His finger nails were worn down to the raw skin,' said Jesse, 'and it was a few more days before he was able to get up.'" 



A Way of Life: Digging for Clams