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Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance Working to Reinvigorate Historic Surfclam Fishery on Cape Cod and Provide New Fishing Opportunity for Small Boats

The Cape surfclam program permits fishermen to land product in smaller containers, which will allow them access to niche markets  for “livies” (top clam), sea clams that are purged and handled in smaller quantities to produce a higher end (sand-free) product. This will increase what fishermen are able to get paid for this product. Photo credit: David Hills/


Some locally-owned, independent fishing vessels from Cape Cod will begin testing new methods   of harvesting surfclams that should help improve product quality and bring a better market price. 

NOAA Fisheries recently issued a research permit to the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance to begin testing the use of surfclam storage containers that are smaller than the currently required industry standard.  Current surfclam regulations require that all clams be landed in large 60 square foot metal cages.  This poses an obstacle for smaller vessels, as this size cage cannot be safely stored onboard.

“Right now the surfclam fishery generates a high volume, low value product,” said project leader and director of the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, Paul Parker.  “We hope to successfully develop a day-boat fishery that lands fewer clams in smaller containers, which would reduce shell breakage, resulting in a low volume, high quality product that commands a higher price.”

“This permit is enabling Cape day-boats to handle smaller quantities of clams in a safer manner,” says fisherman Scott Nolan of Eastham, Mass. “It will also open up new market opportunities for what we call ‘livies,’ sea clams that we purge, handle and transport in smaller quantities to get a better quality product, which then puts more money in our pockets at the dock.”

Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance has begun work on the project this month using the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust 31,136 bushel allocation of surfclams.  The research will be conducted in federal waters surrounding Nantucket Island, roughly 30 miles from shore.  Three different size containers to store surfclams in will be tested.  Project participants will also monitor product quality and value of landed catch.  Traditional hydraulic clam dredge fishing gear will be used to conduct 30 to 40 15-minute tows on a maximum of 150 trips. 

“Fishermen have always been innovators,” said John Bullard, Regional Administrator, NOAA Fisheries, Northeast Region.  “Where ever we can, we intend to support creative efforts like this to help provide new opportunities to fishermen.  This is how the fishing industry will endure and become more profitable.”

If this project is successful, it could provide evidence that would support changing Federal surfclam regulations to allow for more flexibility and opportunities for fishermen with federal surfclam and ocean quahog permits to use this technology to improve the quality of their product and to develop new surfclam markets.

Click here to see press release.