Are littleneck clams the next frontier in aquaculture?

Jordan Kramer is trying them out on his West Bath fish farm and so far, so good.

Jordan Kramer stood on the deck of his boat, the Muffin II, looking down at a pile of hundreds and hundreds of cream- and buff-colored quahogs spread out on a piece of plywood in an area roughly the size of a dinner platter.

“A lot of work has gone into this small pile of clams,” Kramer said.

Even though the clams are too tiny to even think about eating, that small pile was a success story. He’d planted 80,000 Mercenaria mercenaria (the proper name for what are more commonly called quahogs or hard-shell clams) seeds in June 2017, and lost half early on. Handling seed of 1 mm or smaller without losing some is not easy. But of those that remained, between 90 and 98 percent of his baby quahogs had survived their first winter on the New Meadows fish farm. Since June, the seed clams had shot up to 11 mm, and even 17 mm in size. They would have stopped growing around November, when Kramer put the farm to bed, but in the warming days of spring, they’re already getting bigger.

Kramer went into aquaculture for the oysters, starting Winnegance Oyster Farm in 2014, and now has regular customers that range from wholesalers Harbor Fish and Upstream Trucking to restaurants like Woodford Food + Beverage and Island Creek’s The Shop, both in Portland. Last year, he began to diversify with Mercenaria mercenaria, using seed he purchased from Muscongus Bay Aquaculture, which has a hatchery in Bremen. He’s hoping to bring the quahogs to market in September, if all goes well this growing season. At that stage, they’d be called littlenecks (bigger quahogs are usually called cherrystones).

Farming littlenecks, Kramer is at the very edge of what could be the next trend in Maine aquaculture. Quahogs have a northern range that typically extended to Massachusetts. For years they have had a relatively small presence in Maine waters, in pockets, particularly around the Brunswick area, but in the era of climate change and rising ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, quahogs in the wild seem to be increasing.

“We are seeing sort of an expansion of their range northward,” said Jon Lewis, who oversees aquaculture leases for Maine’s Department of Marine Resources.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *