Mercenaria Mercenaria

Market Name(s): Clam, Hardshell, Quahog, Littleneck, Middle Neck

Primary Source(s): Virginia to Maine

Season: Year Round

Size Range:  1-5 inch

These clams are rarely sold by the name “hardshell” or “quahog,” but instead are sold by names reflecting size (1 1/2 to 5 inches), from littlenecks to cherrystones, topnecks and chowders. On the West Coast, Manila clams and Washington steamer clams are sometimes called littlenecks, though they aren’t in this hardshell family. Hardshells are the most valuable U.S. clam species, sold mostly live in bags. The clams are slow growers. Littlenecks — the most tender, most expensive and most sought-after — are 2 to 3 years old. Cherry-stones are 5 to 6 years old. Large chowder clams can be 30 years old. Hardshells are found from the Canadian Maritimes to the Gulf of Mexico in bays, coves and salty estuaries. The major U.S. harvest is taken between Massachusetts and Florida. The clams are harvested by scissors-like tongs with wire-mesh bottoms and by hand rakes and hydraulic dredges. They are also farm-raised along the East Coast.

Ocean quahog clams caught in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean with hydraulic clam dredges are a "Good Alternative." The population is healthy, and bycatch of other species is low. However, this fishing method has major impacts on seafloor habitat and marine life.

Enjoy littlenecks raw on the halfshell, fried or steamed. In soup, add minced clams at the simmer stage, steep 5 minutes and serve. Cherrystones are sometimes eaten raw but more often are broiled, chopped for chowder or baked in dishes like clams casino. Large hardshells are stuffed or used in chowders, clam cakes and similar dishes. Whole, frozen clams must be served immediately upon thawing. If they are allowed to warm up, bacteria growth is rapid.