Atlantic surf clams

While overfishing has been an issue for some species that find their way to the market, that’s not the case with clams. Harvesting of both the Atlantic surf clam, also called the sea clam, and the ocean quahog have been well within the quotas, according to statistics from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Quota Monitoring Report.

In 2010, approximately 2.1 million bushels of surf clams were harvested, accounting for just 60.9 percent of the national quota. The ocean quahog harvest accounted for about 3.4 million bushels, or 63.4 percent of its quota limit. The quotas for this year are the same as last year, and through mid-April, 18.4 percent of the surf clam and 16.5 percent of the quahog quota had been met.

With plenty of allocation and quota left, Guy Simmons, VP-marketing and product development at Sea Watch International in Easton, Md., calls the clam industry “one of the best fisheries in terms of sustainability.”

It’s a fishery with year-round sales that are typically best between May and September, adds Simmons. The primary regulated fishing ground stretches from Virginia to Georges Bank in the Gulf of Maine.

The clams landed by Sea Watch’s fleet, whether shallow-water sea clams or deep-water ocean clams, are processed for use in soups and chowders or as value-added items such as clam strips. On trips that last 35 to 40 hours, a single vessel can land up to 3,000 bushels of clams.

Both sea and ocean clams are considered high-quality products, but Simmons likened their difference to white and dark meat chicken. Sea clams, he says, “are light, tender and sweet or mild,” while their ocean counterpart “is darker, firmer and has a more robust flavor.”

“We look at it as a preference in how you want the final dish to taste,” says Simmons on which clam to use. Among old-timers, he says, sea clams are still considered the premium and are typically more costly because there is a smaller allocation by NMFS. It wasn’t until the 1970s and later that ocean clams were regularly harvested.

Click here to read the rest of the feature on clams, which was written by SeaFood Business Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick and appeared in the magazine’s June issue.

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