« November 2006 Table of Contents
Catcher-processors anticipate a possible shift in
traditional surf clam grounds
- Fiona Robinson
November 01, 2006
Name a clam and there is a market for it. Surf or sea clams
go into the processing sector for chowder or clam strips.
Softshells go to New England restaurants and markets for the
much sought-after summertime "steamers." Most hardshells find
their niche at raw bars or on the specials menu at restaurants
nationwide. Here's a look at what's going on in the market for
The surf clam market went from an excess of product in 2005
to a balance between supply and demand this year. Harvests are
good and yields are consistent, says Todd Blount, president of
Blount Seafood in Fall River, Mass.
"Supply is in good shape, and prices have maintained or are
up slightly because costs are up slightly," says Blount,
referring to increased transportation costs due to the high
price of fuel.
"It has been a decent year, but we're looking forward to a
much better year in 2007 due to solid demand," says Blount.
Skip McAuliffe, director of national sales at Sea Watch
International in Easton, Md., concurs with Blount's analysis of
market conditions. Sea Watch's prices are 6 to 7 percent higher
than in 2005.
"We've done our best to hold pricing, but it got to a point
that with fuel and everything else, we couldn't [hold prices]
any more," says McAuliffe.
Meanwhile, the catcher-processor sector is awaiting news
about the 2007 surf clam resource, according to a market report
in the December issue of National Fisherman . Stocks seem to be
shifting farther east and north of the traditional Mid-Atlantic
grounds. Scientists speculate the surf clam movement is a
result of climate change and global warming, but it doesn't
appear that ocean quahogs have been affected, according to the
The summer season, from the Fourth of July to Labor Day, is
a critical time for Maine's softshell clam dealers, says Lori
Howell at Spinney Creek Shellfish in Eliot, Maine.
This year's softshell market was relatively calm compared to
2005, when red tides and rainfall closed the flats for several
weeks in the summer.
This year, Maine shellfish officials were more selective
about the areas they closed due to red tide, says Howell. For
example, instead of closing an entire bay to softshell
harvests, officials closed specific coves.
Depending upon the weather and tides, buyers at Bristol
Seafood in Portland, Maine, sometimes look as far north as Nova
Scotia to source product in the summer.
"Sometimes we have nothing," says Ray Swenton, Bristol's
The price for a bushel of steamers in July ran from $100 to
$130, according to Urner Barry.
Prices are usually at their highest in early August and
decline in the fall, says Howell.
For now, softshell buyers are keeping their fingers crossed
that next year will bring few red tide and rainfall
Cherrystones, littlenecks, topnecks and chowders are the
common market names for the various sizes of hardshell
These clams are harvested by hand with rakes and with
hydraulic dredges from the Canadian Maritimes to the Gulf of
Mexico. The market for littlenecks, cherrystones, topnecks and
ocean quahogs has been stable for the past few years, and
experts predict more of the same for the near future.
Bristol's Swenton doesn't foresee any hardshell shortages
In mid-October, cherrystone prices were $30 to $35 for a
160- to 180-count bushel, up slightly from the $25 to $35 range
during the same period in 2005, according to Urner Barry
Publications of Toms River, N.J. Chowder prices were $16 to $18
a bushel, down from $18 to $20 during the same period in 2005.
- Fiona Robinson