Clam Identification

Horse Clam

About: Horse clams are found in several Pacific Northwest estuaries. They are known by a variety of names including blue, empire, horse and horseneck clams. They are one of the most common clams found in the region. Geoducks can grow much larger (as much as 10 pounds!) but are rarely found south of Puget Sound in Washington. 

Use: Clam steaks, chowder
Digging method: shovel
Habitat: high salinity sandy and/or muddy areas
Digging tips: Dig around the show, coming in from the side, and not straight down on it to avoid slicing off the neck or breaking the shell. When you’ve dug almost to the depth of the clam, feel around gently with the shovel or your hand so you don’t break the shell. Although a clam with a broken shell is still good, sharp edges of a broken shell can be dangerous. After you’ve removed the clam refill the hole.

Butter Clam

About: Butter clams are found throughout Oregon’s nearshore areas and larger estuaries. Butter clams are excellent burrowers and abundant in shell, sandstone and even rocky areas. Diggers harvest most butter clams from sandy and muddy substrates where it’s easier to dig. Butter clams are most often found in large estuarine systems, because of their higher salinity preference. They are known by a variety of names including Washingtons, Martha Washingtons, Beefsteak, Quahog.

Use: chowder, steamed, steaks
Digging method: shovel, potato fork
Habitat:high salinity gravel, mud, or sandy areas
Digging tips: Butter clams have a distinctive rectangular show. The shape is usually described as looking like a flathead screwdriver was stuck in the mud. 

Cockle Clam

About: Cockles clams are “hard-shelled” clams and because of their stout shells, they do not have to bury as deeply as other common bay clams. Larger cockles can even be found feeding on the sand’s surface. Cockles are one of few clams that are known to move horizontally through the estuary. They are actually quite fast movers by bending their highly-developed muscular foot then quickly straightening it out to “jump” as far as a foot or two at a time.

Use: chowder, steamed
Digging M\method: rake, hand
Habitat: high salinity sandy areas
Digging tips: Rake through the sand until you feel the clunk of the hard shell

Littleneck Clam

About: Littleneck clams are highly prized. They are found in rocky or gravelly areas of high, stable salinity. These clams are often confused with Manila littleneck clams, a smaller related (but non-native) clam available on local markets. Throughout the Pacific Northwest you can find littleneck clams

Softshell Clam

About: Softshell clams occur in almost all coastal areas in the United States and they can range very high into the estuary. Softshell clams are native to the East coast, and are believed to have been introduced to Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s, about the same time people tried to establish a fishery for the eastern oyster. 

Use: chowder, steamed, steaks
Digging method: shovel, clam gun
Habitat: brackish , muddy areas
Digging tips: Unlike the other four common species of bay clams, softshell clams they are found not just in the lower estuary, but fairly high up as well. Softshell clams have variable shows. They are generally round, but can also be oblong or rectangular.

Purple varnish clam

About: Purple varnish clams were recently introduced to Pacific Northwest, most likely from ballast waters from Asia. Purple varnish clams are found in very high densities. Some State’s have recently increased limits to allow increased harvest of these.