PEI

Dig your dinner: Things to know about clamming on P.E.I.

How do you find clams? And how many can you take? Professional P.E.I. clam-digger John Martin has our answers.

'You can be very excited when you're digging clams but the size limit is there for a reason'

'If it's the right size it goes into the bucket, if not put it back,' says John Martin. (Yvonne Duivenvoorden/Tourism PEI)

It's that time of year again — people are flocking to beaches with shovels and buckets in hand, scouring the sand for clams.

John Martin, owner of P.E.I. Coastal Tours and Experience, has been digging clams for as long as he can remember.

He used to dig clams so much as a young man that as a summer job, it paid his way through school and even put gas in his car.

 The bigger the hole the bigger the clam.— John Martin 

Now that he's older, he's turned his passion for clamming into a business and offers his advice for anyone going digging.

And it all starts, he said, with the perfect spot with that "rich red sand."

"Clams feed off the nutrients from the land as much as they do the ocean. So low land along rivers and bays can be ideal to find the soft-shell clams," Martin said.

It may be enticing to take all the clams you can find, but there are rules when it comes to digging. ( Janine Gallant)

Places where a freshwater stream comes off the land into a river or bay is one of the best spots to find clams, he said.

But it's not just about where you can find them, he said — people also need to know how what to take with them and how to detect the clams.

Don't forget your toilet plunger

People can take just about any footwear to go clamming, but it should be something you don't mind getting sandy and wet, like a rubber sandal or a water shoe.

And don't forget a sharp-pointed shovel, a bucket and even a trusty toilet plunger.

Why the plunger?

Rick Goes Clam Digging

6 years ago
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Rick visits Georgetown, PEI to go digging for giant bar clams. 6:56

"Depending on the nature of the sand you're in … you can plunge in water that's two to three inches deep and that'll bubble up some clams just beneath that shallow water," Martin said. 

Clams can also be hard to spot sometimes, as they like to bury themselves in the sand.

Although Martin said if you look along the beach you should be able to spot holes in the sand and, sometimes, the little siphons sticking out like fingers.

You can use a garden fork, a shovel or just a large shell to dig for clams at low tide on P.E.I. beaches. (John Sylvester Photography )

"The clam has a siphon on it, a neck that sticks out through the clam shell and it sticks it right through to the surface so it can siphon in water," he said.

"When it sticks that siphon out it leaves a little hole in the sand. And something I've learned is the bigger the hole the bigger the clam."

A big hole would be the size of an average finger, Martin explained.

Leave the small clams behind

It may be enticing to take all the clams you can find, but there are rules when it comes to digging.

First, each person is allowed a maximum of 100 clams per day.

Second, Martin said the clam shells need to be about two inches in size — take along a ruler so you can sort the ones you can keep from those you can't.

"If it's the right size it goes into the bucket, if not put it back in the hole and it'll have a chance to re-establish itself," he said.

Each person is allowed a maximum of 100 clams per day. (CBC)

Jillian MacPhee, a fishery officer with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said this is one of the most important rules of all.

"The size limit is a very important one, especially for younger children. You can be very excited when you're digging clams but the size limit is there for a reason so we do like to see people abide by that."

Martin said he's even giving the clam beds he frequents a rest this year by letting the clams grow and reproduce.

"We all have a responsibility to protect our environment and the clams are part of that ecosystem in your rivers and bays," he said.

"There's lots of small clams there but they need to grow and the larger clams of course are the ones that create the spats for reproduction."

As of Monday, July 23, these are the areas approved and prohibited for harvesting clams on P.E.I. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

MacPhee said the most important thing to know before going clamming is checking whether an area is open or closed.

Fisheries officers post signs in areas that are closed, she said, and the department even has a map available online showing areas across the province that are open to clam hunting.​

For more information on what to know before harvesting clams, visit the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website.

More P.E.I. news

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cody MacKay

Multiplatform Journalist

Cody is from Summerside, P.E.I., and is a UPEI History and Carleton Masters of Journalism alum. He joined CBC P.E.I. in July, 2017. Reach him at cody.mackay@cbc.ca

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