The Soft-Shell Clam Mya arenaria: Biology, Fisheries, and Mariculture

Chapter 13: History of Fisheries for the Soft-Shell Clam Mya arenaria

Victor S. Kennedy


Clamms … is a shel-fish not much unlike a cockle, it lyeth under the sand, every six or seaven of them having a round hole to take ayre and receive water at. When the tide ebs and flowes, a man running over these Clamm bankes will presently be made all wet, by their spouting of water out of those small holes: These fishes be in great plenty in most places of the countrey, which is a great commoditie for the feeding of Swine, both in winter, and Summer; for being once used to those places, they will repaire to them as duely every ebbe, as if they were driven to them by keepers: In some places of the countrey there bee Clamms as bigge as a pennie white loafe, which are great dainties amongst the natives, and would bee in good esteeme amongst the English were it not for better fish. [Wood 1634] The soft-shell clam Mya arenaria is a circumboreal species that occurs in North America from Labrador to the mid-Atlantic coast in the western Atlantic and from Alaska to California in the eastern Pacific (Carlton 2023; Hoffman and Vendrami 2023; both this volume). In Europe, it is found from the White Sea to northern Norway, from the Baltic and Wadden Seas to Portugal, and in the Mediterranean and Black seas. In Asia, it ranges from the Bering Sea to the Yellow Sea; however, some Pacific populations may have been misidentified and are likely to be M. japonica (Zhang et al. 2018). Its most productive fisheries occur within its western Atlantic range, with minimal to no commercial fisheries elsewhere.

The clam lives in nearshore marine and estuarine habitats, especially in the intertidal zone. This location makes it accessible to humans, who, when the tide is out and with simple, handheld digging tools, can harvest small numbers for a meal or larger numbers to trade or sell. Long before European settlement, Indigenous people in eastern North America harvested large numbers of clams, undoubtedly as food and perhaps for barter (see below).