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A Way of Life: Who Digs?

Burnham Family Shucking
Photograph owned by Victoria Burnham Allen. Courtesy of Kurt A. Wilhelm.


Regardless of who you are, anyone wishing to dig clams today is required by law to obtain a recreational or commercial license from their city. As a means of promoting the local trade, residents of a given town are eligible for a commercial license, which enables them to make a profit by selling clams they have dug. A limit is set on the amount of shellfish dug per license per day and differs for recreational and commercial diggers. Several towns have scholarship programs to distribute free or reduced commercial permits to high schoolers.

Dave Sargent



“[There are commercial shellfishermen and recreational shellfisherman.] They both need permits. And they’re given a shellfish packet. There’s a recreational shellfish packet that’s only about twenty-five pages long, and then a commercial shellfish packet is about twice that, so they can lead a simple and complicated existence. You know, it’s not easy to understand all of the rules and regulations and areas. With them is also a map that’s color-coded to show where there’s prohibited areas and where there is not, and common names that are used. Rockport doesn’t have any approved shell fishing areas.  Essex does. Ipswich, Rowley, and Newbury and Ipswich also have approved area shell fishing. In Gloucester, we roughly have around four hundredrecreational permits in a given year, and roughly around a hundred commercial permits in a given year. And throughout the North Shore, there is probably close to five to seven hundred commercial, and a couple thousand recreational permits.” - Dave Sargent

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A Way of Life: Who Digs?