Surf clams on the deck of a dredge. Photo/NOAA

Surf clams on the deck of a dredge. Photo/NOAA

FishWatch, a newsletter of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, has an article and video on surfclams, the huge clams harvested off the East Coast.

Surfclams support a multimillion-dollar fishery along the East Coast and are the most important commercial clam species harvested in our waters. The United State is the only source for surfclams, which are too big and too coarse to be eaten whole like other clams. They are sold processed, as minced clams, clam strips, stuffed clams, chowders, and broth.

Surfclams are typically found in waters 30’ to 80’ deep. Commercial fishermen harvest them using large hydraulic clam dredges—essentially heavy sleds pulled along the sea floor.

Processing surfclams produces little waste—two-thirds of the clam’s shucked weight is used, and its nectar is a delicacy. Surfclams provide a low-fat, high-quality protein and are an excellent source of selenium and niacin.

The surfclam fishery was one of the first to be managed under a fishery management plan as directed by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It’s also the first U.S. fishery to be managed under an Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system, a management program that allocates shares of the annual harvest to individual fishermen or vessels. The owner of the individual quota can sell his/her quota to another person permanently or lease his/her quota to another person temporarily. When fishermen have a fixed share of the annual harvest, they are able to fish when it is best for them, taking into consideration the market, weather conditions, and other factors. This slows the pace of the fishery, making harvesting surfclams safer, more efficient, profitable, and environmentally friendly—a win-win for the fishermen and the surfclam resource.

The surfclam fishery is a model of sustainable management. The most recent stock assessment (2013) for surfclams found that the stock is abundant and estimated to be 9% above its target population level.

Watch the video below “The Great American Surfclam” to learn more about this important U.S. fishery and the process of preparing surfclams for our gastrointestinal delight.


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