PRIMARY FISHING METHOD:
• Wide appeal to most Americans.
The clam business used to be pretty simple. On the West Coast, there were Manilas and that was about it. Back east, there were hard shells and soft shells. And, of course, there were those big surf clams and ocean quahogs which were sliced and diced for chowders and breaded strips. These days, though, as our appetite for this bivalve mollusk has grown, clams have gotten a lot more complicated. Now we have golden necks, Venus clams, cockles and more. Here’s a look at the world of clams.
Americans keep clamoring for clams. In 1998, we ate more than 100 million pounds of clam meats, making clams our ninth most popular seafood.
Surf clams and ocean quahogs, which are processed for use in chowders and breaded strips, are our biggest clam resource by far, producing annual harvests of about 90 million pounds per year (meat weight). These clams are dredged off the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts.
The foot of the Stimpson surf clam, a species caught off the Canadian Maritimes, is a delicacy in Japan and China, where it is called hokkigai and served as sushi.
Manila clams, which are produced in Washington state and British Columbia, were introduced from Asia in the 1930s. The largest clam resource on the West Coast, Manilas produce an annual harvest of about 10 million pounds. In Washington, Manilas are primarily farmed, while most of B.C.’s production comes from natural beds.
The common hard clam, Mercenaria mercenaria, which is widely harvested along the East Coast from New Brunswick to Florida, is sold under a variety of names, depending upon its size and where it’s being sold. In order of size (from small to large), these market names include: Little Neck, topneck, Cherrystone, chowder and quahog.
Don’t confuse littlenecks (one word) with Little Necks (two words). The West Coast littleneck, Protothaca staminea, is harvested along with Manilas, but costs less than a Manila because it takes longer to open when being steamed and has a shorter shelf life. Little Necks, on the other hand, are small East Coast hard shell clams that get their name from Little Neck Bay in New York. Venus clams, Chione undatella, are a species new to the U.S. market. Farmed in remote bays along the West Coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, Venus clams are placed in racks prior to harvesting to remove any grit. An excellent eating clam, Venus clams are slightly larger and more economical than Manilas or Little Necks. Venus clams are graded small (15 to 20 per pound), medium (10 to 20) and large (9 to 12).
A mahogany clam is a marketing name for small ocean quahogs, Arctica islandica, which are harvested off New England close to shore by small boat fishermen. One company has trademarked the name “golden necks” for their mahogany clams. Mahoganies, which typically average about 25 per pound, are about the same size as Manilas, but cost substantially less.
The meat from ocean quahogs, which is darker and has a stronger odor than the meat from surf clams, sells for about 20% less than surf clam meat. Surf clam meat is normally labeled “sea clam,” while ocean quahog meat is labeled “ocean clam.”
Cockles are very similar to clams. Most of the cockles sold in the U.S. are flown in live from New Zealand. Cockles from New Zealand’s South Island are larger (15 per pound) than cockles from the North Island (20-25 per pound).
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Arctica islandica (Ocean quahog), Chione undatella (Venus clam), Mercenaria mercenaria (Eastern hard clam), Mya arenaria (Eastern softshell clam), Protothaca staminea (West Coast littleneck), Spisula solidissima (Surf clam), Tapes japonica (Manila clam)
MARKET NAME(S): Manila clam, Venus clam, mahogany clam, steamer, cockle, etc. Eastern hard shell clams sold under various names (Little Neck, topneck, Cherrystone, chowder) depending on size.
Manilas—20-30/lb.; Little Necks—8-14/lb.; Mahogany clams—15-25/lb.; Venus clams 15-20/lb. (small); 10-20 (medium); 9-12 (large).
20-35%, depending on species.
PRODUCT FORMS: LIVE: Manila, Venus, Mahogany, Hard clams and Cockles;
STORAGE & HANDLING:
Live clams should be held at 34-38°F in a moist environment. Under ideal conditions, clams will stay alive for 10-14 days. Live clams can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days in an open container
covered with a clean, damp cloth. Do not store on ice or in a sealed plastic bag. Discard clams that are open and will not close when lightly tapped.
The wide variety of clams available today make this a popular seafood even if the names are a bit confusing. Clams can be eaten as an appetizer or an entrée, depending on how you serve them and what type you have. On the West Coast, Manila clams are plentiful. These “steamer” clams are often steamed and eaten from the shell with butter and garlic. They can also be included in pastas or chowders. The common hard clam on the East Coast is eaten similarly, and is called by many different names: Little Neck, topneck, and cherrystone, to name a few. Razor clams, from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska are generally cleaned just after capture and their tender meats are most often served fried.