In Maine all clams in the intertidal zone are harvested by hand. The intertidal zone is the area that is above water at low tide and under water at high tide. In other words, the intertidal is the area where the tide drains out of at low tide. Dredging from boats is allowed in Maine’s subtidal zone (typically for quahogs, surfclams, and mussels).
In Maine soft-shell clamming is done using a clam hoe (also known as rake), a roller, a clam hod, and hip boots. Hip boots (or waders) keep clammers legs and feet dry while they walk through the clam flats and tides. Sometimes a clam dredge is used to collect hard shell clams.
The clam hoe (or rake) is a pitchfork, cut-off approximately 18′ from the tines and then bent at a 70 degree angle. PIC Clam Hoe.
Some clammers don’t use a rake, and instead use just their hands. These types of clammers are called hand-diggers.
The bull rake is special rake with a bucket on it used for harvesting quahogs. It can be done off the side of the boat. (Pic: Ace Simmons of Waldoboro Quahog Pic #2).
Surf clam harvesters use pitchfork tines to feel surf clam shells under the surface in the surf zone. (Pitchfork picture)
The hod (or roller) is a 1/2 bushel basket, constructed with wood lathes or aluminum, that is used to carry the clams and hold them for rinsing off. They are typically used by hand-diggers, who lean on the handle of the hod in a push-up like position, enabling the hand digger to not bend over as much. Using a hod in this fashion is slightly less hard on a clammers body then digging with a clam rake.
picture: Hand digger with hod.
Sometimes clammers use onion bags to hold and transport their clams. Onion bags are used because they are easier to stack and make washing clams faster. And, of course, reusing bags designed for onions is more sustainable and friendlier to the environment!
Shellfish Harvest Measurement
Traditionally, clams were measured in pecks and bushels. There are 4 pecks in a bushel. The weight of the peck or bushel of clams depends on the species, with a bushel of soft shell clams weighing in around 50 lbs, and a bushel of hard shell clams weighing about 60 lbs. Most Maine shellfish buyers used bushels measurement until the early 1990s, when they switched over to weight measurement. Currently, soft shell clams are sold by weight or by clams, while quahogs are sold by size.
It is important to realize that the bushels of the past were larger than the bushel measurement of today. For that reason it is not accurate to compare landings in bushels from the 1980’s to landings in bushels today.