Video: Digging Quahogs in Buzzards Bay

Digging Quahogs in Buzzards Bay
Digging quahogs is fun for all ages. Photo Alicia Pimental, BBC.

If you live near Buzzards Bay, you’ve probably eaten a clam or two in your life. But have you ever tried to dig your own quahogs?


By Alicia Pimental, Buzzards Bay Coalition

A quahog, in case you’re wondering, is another name for the hard clam, Mercenaria mercenaria. In fact, quahogs have several different names; “Littleneck” and “cherrystone” are the names for two different sizes of quahogs. These hard-shelled animals bury themselves a few inches below the mud, where they can live for more than 30 years.

Digging for quahogs is lots of fun, and easier than you might think. Plus, quahogging is a great way to get outside and enjoy the outdoors—and catch yourself a delicious dinner at the same time!

Digging Quahogs in Buzzards Bay
Digging for quahogs requires basic gear. Photo Alicia Pimental, BBC.

Here’s everything you need to know about quahogging in Buzzards Bay:

What do you need to go quahogging?

The most important thing you need before you dig for quahogs is a permit. In Massachusetts, each town issues local permits for recreational and commercial shellfishing. If you’re not a town resident, you can still buy a non-resident shellfishing permit.

Here are links to each Buzzards Bay town’s shellfish license information:

Dartmouth (pdf)
New Bedford
• Marion

Once you get your permit, make sure to find out where the open shellfish beds are located. These open areas shift from time to time to avoid overharvesting, so be sure to check before you dig. Towns will also temporarily close shellfish beds after heavy rainstorms if bacteria levels are too high.

Digging Quahogs in Buzzards Bay
Tasty quahogs thrive in the Bay’s many shallow coves. Photo Alicia Pimental, BBC

A few other items you’ll need include:

Peck basket: These wire baskets are used to hold your quahogs while you’re digging. More important, they hold the legal limit of clams that you’re allowed to keep each week. You can buy a peck basket at most local hardware or bait and tackle stores. To keep them afloat, zip-tie some sections of foam pool noodles to the basket.

Gauge: A quahog gauge is a flat piece of metal with a rectangular hole in the middle. This is how you measure your quahogs to make sure they are legal size: at least 1” thick at the hinge. If your quahog can’t fit through the hole, it’s a keeper!

Rakes: Rakes aren’t technically necessary—you can just use your hands and feet to dig in the mud—but they’re a big help when you’re digging in water that’s deeper than your knees. The popular quahogging rake has a long wooden handle with short metal tines and a small basket on the end to help you sift out the mud.

Waders: Like rakes, you don’t need waders to go quahogging. However, waders will keep you dry if you don’t want to get wet, which can be helpful during the cooler months.

By the way, if you want to learn firsthand how to dig for quahogs, the Buzzards Bay Coalition offers several free “learn to quahog” programs throughout the year as part of its Bay Adventures series.

How are quahogs doing in Buzzards Bay?

Just like all the Bay’s living creatures, shellfish need clean water to survive. That’s why the Buzzards Bay Coalition works to conserve forests, salt marshes, and other important natural areas that help protect the Bay water from pollution.

Quahogs help keep the water clean, too. Clams are filter feeders, which means they suck water into their bodies and filter out the “food”—including bits of algae. But if there are bacteria in the water, quahogs will also absorb that pollution, which can make them harmful to consume.

The good news is that more shellfish beds are open in Buzzards Bay today than 20 or 30 years ago. Back then, bacteria would often flow into the Bay from roads and untreated sewage. Local communities have made a lot of progress to minimize these pollution sources.

Today, the Bay’s biggest challenge is nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen from homes, roads, farms, and septic systems fuels the growth of algae blooms, which deplete the oxygen that shellfish need to live.

To help reduce the levels of nitrogen in the Bay, the Buzzards Bay Coalition urges residents of the watershed to use less lawn fertilizer and vote for clean-water policies in their community. Other ways to reduce nitrogen levels in the watershed and bay can be found on the Coalition’s website:

Digging Quahogs in Buzzards Bay
Photo/Digging Quahogs in Buzzards Bay

What other types of shellfish can you catch in Buzzards Bay?

Quahogs aren’t the only type of shellfish you can catch in Buzzards Bay. Here are a few other species of local bivalves that are fun to harvest and delicious to eat.

Bay scallops: These beautiful shellfish live among eelgrass beds in shallow water. Unlike quahogs, bay scallops don’t bury in the mud. Scallops actually swim by clapping their shells together to propel themselves through the water.

Oysters: Found in both shallow and deeper waters, oysters also live above the Bay’s bottom. But instead of swimming freely like scallops, oysters clump together to form reefs, sometimes on rocks and other hard surfaces.

Softshell clams: Also known as “steamers”, softshell clams live close to the shore buried deep under the mud. If you walk along the beach during low tide and see lots of small holes in the mud, there are probably softshell clams hiding down there.

If you want to learn more about Buzzards Bay’s underwater life, check out the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s online field guide. It contains lots of pictures, videos and information about lots of different plants and animals in the Bay. The guide is available here: