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


Softshell Clam (Steamers)

(Mya arenaria)

Softshell clams, otherwise known as steamers for how they are cooked, can be difficult to find at times. The Town of Barnstable relies heavily on natural sets of steamers because they can be difficult to propagate. There are lots of reasons why they don't make it to legal size, but more reasons are unknown, making it even harder to grow them. Nevertheless, the Town of Barnstable Natural Resources does small scale propagation experiments with softshell clams. For now, it is done in a similar way to how we grow quahogs.

It starts off with the seed we get from a hatchery. This particular seed came from Cat Cove Marine Laboratory. It's 50,000 softshell clams. They arrive in a well packaged styrofoam box with ice packs to keep the clams cool. It looks like a huge bag of risoto when you open it up!

The clams need to go to the ocean and into the floating upweller system (flupsy) as soon as possible.


Once the softshells are in the flupsy, they begin to grow very quickly, after only a short time, they have doubled in size and started to stick together as shown below. Similar to what a clump of mussels would do.

Weeks later, they continue to grow. They need frequent cleaning at this point. At least every other day, each silo that holds the clams is lifted out and rinsed.

Above are underwater pictures of the clams feeding and before they have been rinsed. If you look closely, you can see the open siphons sucking in the water and a lot of pseudofeces around them. This is what needs to be rinsed off to promote clean clams along with nutrient and water circulation.

After they have been rinsed, they look more like the mini versions of the softshell clams that people love to harvest.

Just like with the quahogs, once the softshells have reached somewhere around ½ inch, they need to be planted in the ground. The predator exclusion nets are assembled.


The area where the net will go is raked out to remove predators and any competition from larger quahogs or other shellfish.

When the whole planting area is scratched out, the softshell clams can be gently sprinkled over the area.

Pretty quickly, the softshells start to dig into the ground. In the picture above, you can even see a white foot sticking out from one of the clams and it tried to dig itself into the ground. So they are not quickly eaten up by crabs and other predators, nets are placed over the clams and stapled down in place.


The nets are maintained by keeping sand from building up on top of the nets. Weeks later, you can begin to see the little holes where all the softshells are.


Digging just a couple inches below the surface, we can check on their growth an survival. In the pictures below, you can see the growth on the softshells. The colored part of the clam is the size it was planted at and is still stained and the new growth is the white part.





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

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