Maine Seafood Guide – Soft-shell Clams
Soft-shell clams Mya arenaria
also known as steamers
Wild, with some hatchery supplementation (seeding of flats with juveniles).
Soft-shell clams burrow 8-14 inches into mud, sand, and gravel intertidal areas from Labrador to North Carolina. It takes three to four years for a clam to grow to market size (two inches).
Year-round, peak May through October.
Soft-shell clam landings peaked in 1977 at nearly 40 million pounds; today the harvest averages around 10 million pounds per year, but the value of soft-shell clams has increased over time, and this fishery is currently Maine’s third largest in terms of value.
Commercial harvesters can only take clams with shells longer than two inches. Some clam flats are maintained or enhanced with hatchery-raised “seed” or baby clams. Water quality is important to sustaining a healthy clam resource, so managers and harvesters work to keep coastal waters clean and shellfish beds open.
Maine Department of Marine Resources and individual towns work together to manage clam flats. Area biologists help towns with their conservation areas, reseeding, surveying, town license allocations, shellfish ordinances, warden programs, and more.
Digging by hand with rakes and hoes.
Size limit: 2 inches minimum size measured along the longest axis, but may vary by area.
Harvest limit: one peck per person daily
Towns may have more conservative size and harvest limits. Check town shellfish conservation ordinances for restrictions in the area you plan to harvest.
For more information, visit the Maine Department of Marine Resources website.
If collecting for personal use, check with your town office or the Department of Marine Resources to make sure the area is open to harvesting, 1-800-232-4733 or 207-624-7727. Shellfish areas along the coast are annually re-evaluated by DMR staff to identify and assess the impacts of pollution.
All clams are low in fat and calories and are an excellent source of selenium, iron, and vitamin B12. Clams are a good source of zinc and contain omega-3 fatty acids. Clams are low in mercury.
Clams are filter-feeders and thus are vulnerable to bacterial pollution, chemical contamination, and harmful algal blooms (red tide), especially spring through fall. Clams in the market and on the menu are safe, when purchased from a certified shellfish dealer. If harvesting recreationally or for personal consumption, check the DMR’s list of closed areas before digging, 1-800-232-4733 or 207-624-7727.
As suggested by their name, soft-shell clams have thin, relatively fragile shells. Broken or open clams should be discarded; after cooking, discard those clams that do not open.
To remove mud and grit from soft-shell clams, rinse thoroughly and, optionally, cover them with salted water and soak for 20 minutes to two hours to allow them to “purge” their stomachs of sediment. Some people put cornmeal or vinegar in with the soak. Steam over boiling water or beer.