Shellfishing | Quahogs | Eastern Oyster | Softshell Clams | Bay Scallops


Quahogs (Hard shell clams)

Mercenaria mercenaria

Depending on the size of a quahog, it may be called different things. These are just colloquialisms and are just different names for the same species of clam. People often call them different things to be more specific, as shown below. The different names are based on the size of the quahog.

1 inch= count neck 1.5 inches= little neck 2 inches= top neck 2.5 inches= cherry stone 3 inches= chowder/quahog

Each year, the Town purchases different size quahog seed (under 1 inch hinge width is considered seed) and will grow them to supplement the natural populations within the town. Once they are large enough, they are available for harvest by those with shellfish licenses.


One way that Natural Resources grows quahogs is in a floating upweller system, often called a flupsy, starting at 1.5-2 mm in size.


This is 600,000 quahog seed at 1.5-2.0mm in a small bucket. We pick up the seed directly from the hatchery, but sometimes hatcheries will ship us the seed wrapped securely in moist paper towels, bags, and ice packs in a Styrofoam cooler. It’s pretty exciting to receive the package in mail. Feels like a present!

At such a small size, the seed sit on window screen in a fiberglass silo. A small motor sitting in a center cavity tank draws water up through the window screen, past the quahogs, in through the holes of a large tube, into the center cavity tank and out into the cove. This constantly supplies fresh oxygen, nutrients, and food to the seed quahogs.

One cool thing about this type of system is that we can put it right under the docks in a marina and it is tucked out of the way. To work on the flupsy, we simply lift the doors and have access to the whole system.


Above is a picture of a clean silo and a dirty silo. As babies, these quahogs spend all day eating and creating pseudofeces. There is a lot of care and maintenance involved in taking care of these little ones! Each day, the quahogs must be rinsed along with the fiberglass silo and mesh screen they sit on. Other animals, such as sheath tunicates, will set on the silo and clog the screen preventing waterflow. The freshwater rinse helps to keep everything working properly and allow the animals to grow.

As the quahogs grow, they are periodically sifted on mesh screen to separate the larger ones from the smaller ones. Some quahogs grow faster than others so this is a good way to ensure there isn’t too much competition in one particular silo and it makes it easier to keep sizes consistent for counting and planting. The large ones are classified here as “champs” and the smaller ones “runts”. Yes, very scientific.


Late summer to early fall, Natural Resources and usually a group of trusty volunteers, begin the process of planting the seed. To ensure a high percentage of survival, we plant the quahog seed under predator exclusion nets. Below is a picture of AmeriCorps members building the nets.


Once the nets are mostly assembled, with a little more assembly in the field, we can choose the appropriate spot to plant the seed. After careful consideration, we begin to dig out an area the size of the net (about 14 x 19ft).


Scratching the surface where the net will go ensures that no predators get stuck under the net to have a quahog feast and the larger quahogs are relocated to avoid competition and give the seed some room to grow! Once the area is cleared, the seed can be evenly distributed and finally planted! Under each net anywhere between 5,000 and 15,000 quahogs will be planted.

The net is placed over the planted quahogs and then stapled into place.

To indicate there are nets in an area or seed, we place signs and yellow buoys to mark the corners and edges of a propagation area. Please be aware of these signs and the corners so the nets are not ripped! The nets need to remain intact so crabs and other predators don’t eat all the clams!

The work does not stop here. These nets must be maintained and frequently cleaned so too much seaweed doesn’t grow and stick to the nets. We regularly take squeegees and shag carpet brushes to push seaweed and sand off the nets and keep them clean. Even 50 feet can make a huge difference as to what collects and what doesn’t.


Depending on the location, the habitat, nutrients, differences in year to year growth, the shellstock, and hundreds of other variables, the seed may stay under the nets for a year or two before the nets are removed.

If the seed was initially planted at a higher density, we may need to go back and harvest some to thin the crop. These quahogs will be seeded around different parts of Barnstable where there is good quahog habitat. Volunteers frequently help with this digging project and sorting seed because it is a big undertaking!

Once the quahogs are seeded and have some time to grow to legal size, the quahogs can be harvested and brought home! By those with a valid shellfish permit of course.






Dan Horn
P 508-790-6272
F 508-790-6275
1189 Phinney's Lane
Centerville, MA. 02632

Public Records
Ann Quirk
Public Records Request
Natural Resource Officers


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