Saturday, January 28, 2017








The SEATOR website provides lots of information including:
  • the latest local biotoxin test results 
  • a shellfish safety video narrated by Harvey Kitka 
  • aid in identification of shellfish species
  • directions and sample forms for submitting shellfish for testing

NOTE: Testing by SEATOR'S research lab is not free. There will be a fee for each species tested. Contact SEATOR for the cost.

To contact SEATOR's research lab:

For their latest news, you can follow 
Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research on Facebook.
Go to their Facebook page and click the "like" button.

So, why would a local clam lover be excited about having a test lab nearby? 

Well, because there are literally zillions of nutritious clams of every size and shape available to us at low tide.

But, let's be realistic. Harvesting clams can be downright challenging.

Let's consider our ever growing otter population, for instance. 
Otters are clam lovers, too! It appears that they are taking a big bite out of quite a few of our local clam beds.

And, how about our weather? Our weather with high winds, soaking rains and active surf frequently keeps the clam beds just beyond reach.

For many clam lovers, the biggest obstacle to hauling loads of clams home from our beaches has been the risk of running into dangerous  toxins... especially the toxins that cause PSP, paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Some people say, "Oh, don't worry about it."

But, most people do worry about it.
And, with good cause. 
You will probably be convinced to worry about it, too, once you have a hard look at the biotoxin test results coming out of the SEATOR lab.

But now, with testing readily available, it is possible to look forward to gathering, testing and eating clams fearlessly and enthusiastically!

After communicating with an advisor at the Alaska State Department of Fish and Game, it is my understanding that if you are a resident, you are eligible to follow the SUBSISTENCE guidelines. As a subsistence harvester of clams, you will not need a license. You are free to harvest clams from beaches pretty much anywhere on the north, west and south borders of Baranof and Chichagof Islands... including all those smaller islands around and amongst. Any beach around the whole of Kruzof Island is fine. However, once you reach the beaches on the east side of Baranof and Chichagof Islands, in other words Chatham Strait, things get complicated. Rather than have me try to explain, it makes more sense for you to be personally advised by the Department of Fish and Game for beaches in Chatham Strait. 

In fact, I encourage any questions or concerns about subsistence, personal use or sport fishing regulations be taken to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game office. The Sitka office staff has been accommodating and informative. 

There are no restrictions on when you can harvest clams. Year round.

The tools allowed for harvesting clams are rakes, shovels, hands and manually operated clam guns. A hydraulic clam digger can be used to take geoducks.

For the most part, there are no restrictions on how many clams you are free to harvest. There are a few species of clams that have a daily bag limit. This will be clarified when we discuss clam species individually further on in this post.

In the Sitka area, just about any beach is likely to produce clams. Best to get away from beaches along community road systems in order to avoid the pollutants so often found where modern man congregates. Because some island property owners in the Sitka area have tideland rights, it is best to avoid beaches on privately owned islands.

Sandy beaches are especially inviting. Rocky beaches are also home to clams. But, on rocky beaches, it can be difficult to locate and remove very many clams.

Harvest clams when beaches meet the ocean during the lowest tides, preferably during what we refer to as minus tides. Many local businesses have tide books available for free. I am especially grateful for the tide book in the photo below. I pick one up each year because it also includes Sergius Narrows. It is easy to read the designated times that the powerful currents go slack... the safest times to pass through the narrows.

Navigation programs utilized on boats often display tide information as well. 
Minus tides are simply the low tides listed in tide books with a minus sign. As many as half of the days of each month show a minus low tide. Typically, minus tides happen in the morning throughout the summer months.  Throughout the winter, minus tides typically happen in the evening. The logic of harvesting clams during a minus tide is not necessarily because all clams live that low on the beach. Some species do not. When the ocean recedes during a minus tide, you will simply have a little more time to harvest clams before the ocean gradually rises again and covers all of the clam beds.

A healthy beach will often have a variety of clam species.
Different species of clams live and grow at varying depths and locations on the beach. This is usually, but not always, consistent from beach to beach in any given area. Some clam species grow as shallow as an inch below the surface. Others dwell as deep as several feet down!

At a very young age, all of the children in my large family and neighborhood learned how to dig clams simply by watching other people dig clams. We lived just above a pebble beach in a protected bay south of Boston, Massachusetts. We dug up clams with a clam fork that looked like a dirty, old version of the one below:

It never occurred to me to use that kind of fork, a clam gun or a hydraulic digger to dig clams here in southeast Alaska. People in these parts usually grab a bucket and whatever is handy in the way of shovels.

Early each spring, we usually find ourselves returning to our tried and true, favorite clam beaches. Sometimes, we look for a new beach at low tide with water squirting all over the place and lots of clam holes showing.

After we have dug a hole or trench and removed our preferred clams, we shovel everything else back into the hole. We move around the beach and keep repeating this until we have collected the number and varieties of clams we want. We often take turns with the shovel, although Mr. Welsh is our tireless champion!

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew...
  • picks the clams from the holes and piles
  • rinses the clams using a bucket drilled with holes 
  • separates the different clam species into separate buckets 
  • transports the buckets back into our boat
  • fills the buckets with enough salt water to cover the clams

You never know what might turn up along with clams. 
Who knew there were so many different kinds of sea worms!

Once the work is done, we often enjoy a picnic on the beach.
Regardless of the work involved, clam digging on a nice, sunny day sure makes for an enjoyable and memorable outing with family and friends.

Nowadays, when we return home with our clams, we intend to follow the SEATOR directions and have our clams tested. We will wait for positive results before chowing down.

Some people put their load of rinsed clams in a net or cloth bag and let them hang in the ocean water. They soak the clams for a few days off the side of their boat or dock. 

We prefer to take our loaded buckets home. We remove and discard any clams that smell bad, are partially opened or cracked. Best not to eat any questionable clams.

Next, we shake a little corn meal onto the surface of the salt water above the soaking clams. The corn meal drifts down amongst the clams. 

We place these buckets in our cool, dark garage for a couple of days. Hopefully the clams will stick their necks out to syphon in the corn meal and syphon out any grit.


(Saxidomus gigantea)
no restrictions, no daily bag limit

Everyone in my family enjoys eating clams one way or another. 
Me? I am the member of the family who is crazy about clams. 
Butter clams are at the top of my list. 

The simple and easy way to prepare Butter clams is a quick steam to open the shells. 
I put a bunch of rinsed Butter clams in a large pot then: 

  • add about a cup of water 
  • cover the pot with a lid 
  • bring the water to a hard boil for a minute or two  
  • turn off the heat

The heat and steam causes the clam shells to open. The clams are ready to eat! Occasionally there are a few clams with unopened shells. Do not eat. 

Size wise, for steaming, I prefer Butter clams that are tiny in size on up to about two inches. Once steamed open, some people like to fork the clams out of the shell, swish them in broth and dip them in melted butter. Occasionally, I find myself following this procedure. But, most often, I forego the ritual. I just go for it and eat the steamed clams plain right out of the shell. Butter clams are so tender and delicious! 

The clams in the photo below are mostly Butter clams. They are steamed open and ready to eat. The butter clam outer shells have concentric ridges. As you may have guessed, the few clams with outer concentric ridges and radial ribs in this photo are Pacific littleneck clams. The Pacific littleneck clams (Protothaca staminea) often inhabit the same depth and location on beaches as the Butter clams. The clam in the upper right with the tiny neck is a Pacific littleneck.

The outer shell of the Pacific littleneck, with the radial ribs, is obviously different from the shell of Butter clams, with no radial ribs. 

These Pacific littleneck clams are tasty, too.

Leftover steamed clams?  

It is easy enough to fill a container with steamed clams and broth... 
and freeze to enjoy at a later date.

Another way to enjoy steamed clams is to smoke them.

Here's how I smoke steamers using our BIG CHIEF SMOKER:
  • After steaming open, remove the steamers from shells. 
  • Spread the steamers in a single layer on the smoker racks.  
  • Leave the steamed clams in the smoker with a pan of smoking wood chips for about an hour. 

After smoking, the clams remain tender and gain a wonderful smoke flavor. 

We usually eat the smoked clams as a snack. 
We have also vacuumed packed smoked clams using our vacuum sealer. Into the freezer they go. The smoked clams are delicious at a later date thawed and eaten as a snack. 
Even better, a pack of thawed, smoked clams makes a wonderful addition to a clam chowder. The smoke flavor is even more delicious in a chowder than if you had added crumbled bacon!

Butter clams grilled or broiled in the shell are wonderful!

There is no end to the combination of flavors you can add to clams prepared this way. Here is how I prepared the clams in the photo above.

  • Start heating up your grill or broiler.
  • Steam open a bunch of Butter clams. We use Butter clams as large as 3 inches for this.
  • Once steamed, arrange the opened clams on some sort of baking or cookie sheet.
  • Put a spot of butter on each clam. It is easiest if you melt the butter first and pour a little on each clam. 
  • Place a  green leaf or two on top of each clam. Try basil, kale, spinach, collard greens or a bit of french sorrel as seen above. Dried herbs work well, too. Maybe add chopped raw or sautéed onions?
  • Sprinkle grated cheese, such as parmesan, on top of the greens.
  • Some people like to add a small piece of raw bacon on the top.
  • It works well to place the baking sheet in the center of the oven. Broil briefly, keeping a close watch. 
  • Remove from oven when the cheese looks melted or the bacon looks crisp, before it burns.
  • Once the clams cool a little, enjoy! What a treat!


also known as 


(Tresus capax)
no restrictions, no daily bag limit

Horse clams are sizable. They have been known to grow nearly a foot across! 
  We usually dig up a bucket of horse clams from the same beaches where we dig Butter clams. We often find them a little lower on beaches than the Butter clam beds.
And are Horse clams ever fun to dig up! 

We look for a bit of seaweed moving downward  inside about a one inch hole in the beach sand. The seaweed moves because the Horse clam siphon withdraws downward deep into the sand when it senses a threat.  

The clam itself does not travel through the sand. The clam stays put... living its' life deep down in the sand. It stretches and extends its' powerful neck, or siphon, up through the sand to the ocean water where it sucks in food and releases waste. 

We dig down alongside the seaweed filled hole in the beach. Sometimes we have dug as shallow as 6 inches... or as deep as 2 feet down! 

While one of us does the digging, another continuously reaches in and feels around at the bottom of the hole to locate the giant clam. Rubber gloves are a big help. It is too easy to slice a finger on something sharp rummaging around in a deep, dark hole. The edges of shells and pebbles can be sharp. 

It sometimes feels like a tug of war getting the giant clam out from the depths. 
But look at the prize!

Once we remove a Horse clam, we refill the hole.

We bring our Horse clams home in a bucket. We don't do anything with the Horse clams at the beach other than rinse off the sand.

Once we have the Horse clams home, we take a sharp knife and slice into the clam where the shells meet. With the knife at an angle, we release the small adductor muscles that hold the shells shut.

Surprise, surprise!
Inside every Horse clam we have ever cleaned are two tiny crabs, one thin and one fat. The tiny male and female crabs are both an eerie, transparent shade of white. They are about an inch in size. We call them GHOST CRABS.

In fact, these pea crabs hosted by Horse clams are Pinnixa littoralis. They live symbiotically with their Horse clam host. The crabs live their life inside the clam in the mantle area. They feed on bits of food filtered in by the Horse clam. We have found them to be both fascinating and creepy.

                                                                                               photo from the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

We focus on the tasty, tender parts of Horse clams...  especially the neck. We cut away and discard the dark siphon tip of the neck. We slice the neck open and remove the outer skin. I find it easiest to peel the skins off of the necks after letting them soak in a bowl of fresh water for a short time.

The only other part of the Horse clam we remove for eating is the digger foot attached to the gut bundle. The digger foot is the triangular section seen in the lower part of the photo below. Once you cut away the digger foot, discard the remaining guts and gills.
                       photo from the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Everyone usually chips in when it comes to clam cleaning time. 

I love how uncharacteristically shy these guys appear to be in this photo!  

Well, anyhow, they sure did an excellent job of cleaning our bucket of Horse clams.

One or two of the large, cleaned Horse clams yields enough clam meat for a good sized clam chowder. I packed the cleaned Horse clams into containers, covered them with water and into the freezer they went.

Once our gardens are harvested in fall, we cook our potatoes, celery, zucchini and onions in with thawed, chopped Horse clams. Add a little powdered beach asparagus and powdered seaweed along with a few smoked clams...
and you have a clam chowder as good as it gets. 
I would list the ingredients more precisely, but I seem to put chowder together a little different each time I prepare it. 
For me, chowders and stews are pretty much catch all and open for creativity.

(Panopea abrupta)
no restrictions other than the daily bag limit of 6

The Geoduck pictured above is about average in size. The shell is 7 inches and it weighs 4 lbs. Geoducks have been found to weigh in at 16 lbs!

The Native American name for Geoduck is gweduc which means "dig deep."

Geoducks are the world's largest burrowing clams. They can live 150 years or more! The age is determined by counting the rings on the shell.

Below is a sketch of a Geoduck's parts:
                                                                          Photo from Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The bulk of a Geoduck is edible. 
Preparation of this clam for eating is unusually quick and simple. 

  • Cut away the shell with a sharp knife.
  • Cut the neck (siphon) off where it meets the body.
  • If the outer skin of the neck does not pull off easily, dip the entire neck into boiling water for five or so seconds. Then, dip it in cold water to quickly cool and pull the outer skin off of the neck. 
  • With a sharp knife, cut off the dark tip of the neck.
  • Slice open the neck.
  • Pull away the entire sack of guts (visceral ball, gills and labial palps) from the clam body. Discard all but the section often called the "breast" as seen to the left of the neck in the photo below.

Here are the rinsed parts you will be eating:

The last time I cleaned a Geoduck, I removed the outer skin from the neck and stretched it out. It was nearly 40 inches long! 

I hung it to dry inside a sunny window in the house. I was curious to see the outcome. 

The next day the dried outer skin was brittle. When handled, it crumbled. The texture reminded me of dried blades of bull kelp. 
It certainly was beautiful before it crumbled. 

If you have never eaten a huge, strange looking Geoduck clam, try one! 

You are in for a rare treat.

I italicized and am emphasizing the word, rare, for a reason other than the divine flavor. Nowadays, Geoduck clams are very difficult for a subsistence gatherer to locate on beaches at low tide. Local commercial divers report witnessing sea otters successfully harvesting Geoducks. With our large population of sea otters, consider yourself very lucky to find any Geoducks at all in the intertidal zone.

In the big picture, Geoduck clams have been located on shores in various parts of the world as shallow as low tide beaches to depths of 330 feet.

Decades ago, before the reintroduction of sea otters, I searched during the lowest of minus tides on beaches south of Sitka Sound's Eastern Channel here on the west coast of Baranof Island. I found a few Geoducks. This is the top of a Geoduck siphon visible above the sand:
                                                                                                                                                      photo by Jeff Adams

When the tide is low, as much as a foot of the Geoduck neck might reach up out of the sand: 
                                                                                                         photo by Jeff Adams

Locating a Geoduck is only part of the challenge.

Digging the Geoduck out from it's deep home is difficult. 

It can take a surprisingly long time.

The sand tends to cave in, refilling your hole.

Sea water seeps in and fills the hole.

Creative thinking helps. Maybe use some sort of wide, deep cylindrical container open at both ends. I saw a wide variety of methods for harvesting Geoducks on Youtube. 

Keep in mind the clam lives as deep as five feet down. 

Yes. Most are probably deeper than the length of your arm! 

While you work, the tide comes creeping in. 
Good luck!

So, if you are lucky enough to get your hands on a Geoduck, there are wonderful recipes available to enhance the delightful flavor of this clam. One Geoduck will provide several meals, depending on its' size.

Lots of people, including me, like to slice the neck into very thin pieces for Sushi. Sushi is a Japanese dish consisting of thin slices of raw seafood wrapped in seaweed with cooked rice and various vegetables.

Sashimi is delicious, too. Simply slice some of the raw Geoduck neck super thin. Eat the thin slices plain or with a dash of your favorite dipping sauce or wasabi. The thin slices have a slight crunch and a wonderful ocean flavor.

Ceviche is a delightful Latin American dish. Once again, this dish uses thinly sliced, raw Geoduck neck.
Soak about one pound of the thin slices in the juice of a lemon or lime for 1/2 hour. While the slices are soaking, prepare a salad.

Chop and combine some of your favorite veggies, fruits and seasonings.

Ceviche recipes I have enjoyed included: 

chili peppers

red onion 


red or yellow bell pepper 

minced fresh garlic 
mango or papaya 
soy sauce 
a bit of brown sugar 
toasted sesame seeds

Mix the soaked Geoduck slices with the salad you have chopped.
Eat this dish while it is fresh. Ceviche!

As for the tender breast of the Geoduck, our favorite preparation is fried:

Slice the Geoduck breast into bite size pieces.
Roll the pieces in flour:

Beat an egg or two in a bowl and dredge the floured pieces of Geoduck in the beaten egg:

Place a cup or two of bread crumbs in a bowl:

Roll each piece of egg covered Geoduck in the bread crumbs:

Heat two or three inches of some type of vegetable oil in a pot or deep fryer. You want the oil to be good and hot... medium/high on a cook top or 375 degrees in a deep fryer.

Gently drop no more than 5 or 6 pieces at a time into the hot oil on a cooktop. Double the amount if you are using an efficient deep fryer. Three or four minutes is all you should need to turn the outside a crispy, golden brown, while the inside stays tender.

The results should be the best fried clams you have ever eaten! 

Siliqua patula
                                                                                                                              photo from the Alaska Dept of Fish and Game

Razor clams were the favorite clam of just about everyone I met when I first moved to Sitka. It was so much fun to go by boat out to the beaches, one in particular, on the southeast end of nearby Kruzof Island. Good weather and minus tides were the formula for successfully filling a bucket with Razors. We all got pretty silly chasing deep into the sand after the elusive Razor clam. There were always plenty of fellow Sitkans scattered along the beach joining in the fun. Before we knew it, the tide would come up! It could be quite challenging getting a skiff out off the beach through the growing surf. But, the Razor clams were so worth the effort. Sauteed or fried. So tender and delicious!

Well, unfortunately, it has been many, many years since those beaches I mentioned have been open for Razor clam digging.
Currently, no Razor clams may be retained anywhere in Sitka Sound. There is a daily bag limit of 50 Razor clams from the beaches on western Kruzof Island between Cape Edgecumbe and Cape Georgina. I have never personally searched for them out that way. I wonder if most of the beaches are far too steep and far too rough with big surf to host Razor clams. 
But, hey! There are bound to be at least a few good spots! It is worth a look during a minus tide if you are out that way!

also known as
(Mactromeris polynyma)
no restrictions, no daily bag limits

These uniquely colored clams are a pretty rare sight on beaches anywhere around Sitka Sound. 

How very fortunate for me that I have an unusually thoughtful neighbor. Appreciating how much I love clams, he encouraged me to look for the Arctic Surfclam when boating considerably north of Sitka. He called them "pink neck" clams. No wonder!

Sure enough, thanks to my good neighbor, I found a few beds of these clams during the very lowest of minus tides far to the north of Sitka. The ocean was super calm that day. What I discovered was that the Arctic Surfclams were few and far between on the sandy beaches. However, they were far more plentiful well below the minus tides. I tried snorkeling where the clams were more plentiful in 3 to 5 feet of ocean water. It was challenging. When I started digging, the fine sand immediately stirred up into a thick cloud. Oh, great. This made it impossible to see anything at all.

Years ago, another acquaintance described how he and his family harvested lots of Arctic Surfclams from the beaches in Juneau. When my husband and I were last in Juneau, our visit coincided with a minus tide. Yes, I planned our visit around a minus tide! Sure enough, we discovered Arctic Surfclams on quite a few of Juneau's beaches. For several practical reasons, we did not harvest any. Sometimes the discovery of certain edibles can be far more satisfying than the possession. 

So, what little we have learned about Arctic Surfclams, is that they are quite similar to Razor clams as far as locating them on sandy beaches and flavor. Delicious. These clams are quite popular and a delicacy in Asian countries. The focus for Asian cooks is the digger foot. The digger foot is used most often in sushi and sashimi.

When the clam is opened by means of a sharp knife, you can see the pink digger foot, lower right, on the clam in the photo below.

In our kitchen, the Arctic Surfclam is utilized much the same as Razor clams: 
  • Cut away the gut section and discard. 
  • Utilize the remainder of the clam.
  • Slice open the neck and the digger foot.
  • Dip the clams in milk, shaking off excess. 
  • Coat with flour.
  • Either saute in olive oil ever so briefly, or deep fry.
  • Squeeze on a little lemon juice.
  • Season with a little salt and pepper.
  • Enjoy!

You probably already know this. 
Whenever you are out beachcombing, you can often determine which species of clams live in that neighborhood. Look for empty shells washed up on the beach and around the seaweed and other debris at the high tide line. If you cannot identify the shells you find, here are a couple of great reference books to help you out:


1 comment:

  1. This was great reading for me , thank you. I too am a Southeast Alaska clam connoisseur..