June 21, 2024

Can Soft Shell Clams Revive Aquaculture?

Message from the Cap’n is a compilation of fishing advice, waterman and weather insights, Chesapeake lore, and ordinary malarkey from the folks who keep their feet wet in the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers.

Fifty years ago, soft shell clams were so plentiful in the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay that we used them for fish bait or sold them when we could for about $2 per basket.

It was no problem at all to go around the edge of the shore with a skiff and blow them out of the sea-bottom using the prop wash from the outboard motor. They were everywhere.

I can remember when the clam boats unloaded their catch at the old Torpedo testing range in Piney Point in 1970. (Now the Paul Hall Center.) They loaded a tractor and trailer of clams every day the weather permitted, six days a week. If they could not catch 100 bushels of clams by 9am they figured that they weren’t doing anything.

Come to find out clams were very temperamental creatures that were affected by many factors in the Bay. Today, they’re rare as hen’s teeth.

Much has changed since then, the greatest devastation to the industry came along with Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972. Today, Morgan State University scientists, utilizing Maryland Sea grant funds, are working to make soft shell clams a viable alternative within the aquaculture setting to which now allows only a single species, the oyster.

Flashes of natural revitalization of the species generated a renewed market interest in the soft clam, according to an article in the Chesapeake Bay Journal. This led to a hope that the soft shell clam could expand Chesapeake Bay shellfish aquaculture industry, and Morgan State is working on it.


The Cap’n

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