Clam Digging in New England

by Laurie Rappeport
Head to New England during the summer for a day of clam digging.

Head to New England during the summer for a day of clam digging.

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Some people only know about clam digging through Robert McCloskey's charming children's tale "One Morning in Maine," but many East Coast residents eagerly anticipate the annual clam digging season. Seafood lovers prize clams for their versatility as a food that cooks can fry, bake, smother in sauce or season lightly and eat raw. If you want to spend an enjoyable day along the New England seashore, consider a day of clam digging.


Bivalve mollusks, also called "clams," have two symmetrical shells and soft bodies. They bury into the ground. New England clam diggers must harvest the clams by discovering their hiding spots and digging them out. Clams leave holes when they burrow and you can see those holes in the mud when you walk around the clam flats.

Clam Types

In New England, you'll generally find both hard-shell (mercenaria mercenaria) and soft-shell (mya arenaria) clams. Many people prefer the soft shell clams for chowders and prepare them as "steamers." The clams' size determines their value, with littlenecks (width of one to two inches) as the most desired and expensive. Other clams include topnecks (width of two to three inches), cherrystones (width of three to 3-1/2-inches) and chowders (larger than 3-1/2-inches).

Towns' Rules and Regulations

New England towns retain ownership of their shoreline. They sell day licenses to people who want to dig for clams on their clam flats. They also will inform the clammers about the spots where they can and cannot dig. Towns set their individual licensing laws which include regulations of acceptable clam species, sizes and harvest limits that clammers can remove. Most towns post signs at the clam flat that inform clammers of the local rules, clam flat status and location for obtaining a license.

Digging Times

New England clam digging season spans June through early September. The best time to dig for clams is at a low or falling tide, or at the early stages of the incoming tide. Once the tide is in, you won't be able to identify the clam holes because they're under the water.


When you find a clam hole, dig a hole approximately a foot deep which allows you to extract the clam. You must take care that you don't cut your hand on the clam's top sharp edges.


Government regulations sometimes force the closure of local clam flats because the local government lacks the resources to adequately monitor the area. In addition, some New England localities find that their regional clam flats must close because the state government wants to emphasize commercial clamming in other areas

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