Quahogs vs. steamers: a Memorial Day sustainability question

If my posts have seemed a bit harried these past few days, it is because I've been buried under a slew of fried clams. At the last moment, I was called into a local clam shack to help serve Wellfleet seafood to the masses as they descended upon the town pier for the weekend.

Even after five seasons, it never ceases to amaze me just how much Cape seafood an influx of 30,000 plus visitors can pack down. Between oysters, scallops, cod, lobster, calamari, and clams—both whole bellied and stripped—the restaurant served up almost 1500 plates per day. Even give or take a few hot dogs and hamburgers, that's a pretty hefty poundage of food from the sea.

And that's just at one restaurant. Add into the mix the hundreds of other high volume Cape restaurants, and clams are disappearing at a rate that's hard to imagine.

For the most part, clamming remains a sustainable industry despite the high volume sold to tourists during summer months. The littlenecks and cherry stones (quahogs) offered up on the half shell are farm raised in a sustainable manner by local shellfishermen (check out the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association for more info).

The supply of frying clams is a bit more volatile. Steamers for frying are dug locally on the flats of Monomoy Island in Chatham, or a bit further north in Ipswich and off the coast of Maine. These small white shellfish are wild, making them susceptible to red tide and over digging (the Chatham Squire alone reports buying and serving up to 9 tons of Monomoy steamers per year).

While a plate of steamers or fried whole bellies may be tempting, they're not always harvested sustainably. Next time I pick up a menu (or a clam knife), I'll be looking for quahogs.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating! So it's the opposite of fish, where we're supposed to buy wild instead of farmed? Thanks for the tip!

Chris Gillis said...

I went to buy some steamers this weekend to find out they were sold out in Chatham on Saturday for the Weekend!!! in Chatham!! The guy also said there is a Red Tide making its way up here in a few weeks, so get em while you still can.

Elspeth said...

Tryingtoeatright: Yes, it's the opposite of fish. Amazing what you'll learn when you ask! I was also expecting the opposite.

Chris: I believe it. With such a big weekend and Red Tide already in some places, demand was huge. Hope you've managed to find some by now!

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