Get Email Updates

Get Text Alerts

Sign up for recreational and commercial text alerts

Ocean Quahog and Atlantic Surfclam
Ocean Quahog (Arctica islandica)
Atlantic Surfclam (Spisula solidissima)

Atlantic Surfclam And Ocean Quahog

Implementing regulations are found at 50 CFR part 648 subpart E

The surfclam and ocean quahog fishery is managed under a fishery management plan (FMP) developed by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.  With the exception of the Maine mahogany quahog fishery, the fishery has operated under an individual transferable quota (ITQ) management system since 1990.  The principal gear used in the fishery is the hydraulic clam dredge, which uses jets of water to dislodge ocean quahogs and surfclams from sediments.  A smaller "dry" dredge (without hydraulic jets) is used in Maine waters to harvest Maine mahogany quahogs .  The mahogany quahog fishery off Maine is managed under a relatively small quota that is separate from the quota used to manage the ITQ fishery.  Ocean quahogs off Maine are managed separately because of differences in biological, fishery, and market characteristics.

 

2017 Clam Bulletins

 


Click Below for Past Bulletins (Permit Holder Letters):

ITQ Allocation Holder Reports

A Guide for Commercial Maritime Industries - Munitions At Sea

The Army recognizes that munitions may inadvertently be encountered during commercial and recreational activities. To address this potential, the Army has developed an explosives safety guide to advise people who work in our Nation’s maritime industries of the potential hazards associated with munitions inadvertently recovered from the sea and the actions that should be taken to help ensure safety.

Current Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR)

Fishery Information

What are other common names for the Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog fishery?  Common names for surfclam may include:  Clam, hen clam, bar clam, and sea clam.  Ocean quahogs can also be referred to as quahogs, hard clam, mahogany clam, and black clam.  Note that ocean quahogs (Artica islandica) are a different species of quahog than those that are found in intertidal zones (Mercenaria mercenaria), often referred to as cherry stones or little necks.

What is the temporal extent of the fishery?  The fishery occurs year-round.

What is the geographic extent of the fishery?  Surfclams are distributed from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Cape Hatteras, NC.  Commercial fisheries generally concentrate on the populations off the coasts of New Jersey and the Delmarva Peninsula.  Ocean quahogs are found from Newfoundland to Cape Hatteras.  Outside of Maine waters, the bulk of the landings and effort in 2008 came from the Long Island Region.  From 2001-2008, there were no landings south of 38° North latitude, and landings were centered in the Long Island region.

What depths are Atlantic surfclams and ocean quahogs found at?  Surfclams are found from beach zones to about 150 ft.  Ocean quahogs are found at depths of 25 to 750 ft.  As one moves northward, quahogs inhabit waters closer to shore.  Ocean quahogs are harvested in waters up to 300 m deep in southern New England.

Are other species caught when fishing for surfclams or ocean quahogs?  Not usually.  In regards to bycatch, this is an extremely clean fishery, comprising well over 80 percent of total catch from surveys.  Commercial operations are cleaner than the scientific surveys.

What gear types are authorized and what gears are primarily used?  Dredge and hand harvest are authorized in the commercial fishery, with hydraulic clam dredges being the primary gear type used.  Recreational harvest is limited to hand harvest. 

Management Information

How is the fishery managed?  Since 1977, the Atlantic surfclam ocean quahog fishery has been managed under a FMP developed by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.  With the exception of the Maine mahogany quahog zone fishery, the fishery has operated under an individual transferable quota (ITQ) management system since 1990.

Who manages this fishery?  The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council with NMFS as the implementing body.

What is the fishing year for this fishery?  January 1 – December 31

What are the different management areas for the surfclam/ocean hog fisheries?  The only distinct management zone in this fishery is the Maine mahogany quahog zone, which is north of 43°50' N. latitude.  This area has some different regulations than the rest of the EEZ.  See the ‘Permits’ tab for more information on the Maine mahogany quahog fishery.

Timeline

1977 – Original FMP for Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog approved 

1979 – Amendment 1 extended the moratorium in surfclam fishery through 1979

1979Amendment 2 extended the FMP through 1981, divided the surfclam portion of the management unit into the New England and Mid-Atlantic Area, and introduced a “bad weather make up day” 

1981 – Amendment 3 extended the FMP indefinitely; also imposed a 5.5-inch minimum size limit, expanded fishing week, and put quota setting on a framework basis 

1984 – Amendment 5 extended size limit and required that cages be tagged

1986Amendment 6 divided the New England Area into the Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank Areas, the dividing line being 69° N. longitude

1987Amendment 7 changed the quota distribution on Georges Bank to equal quarterly quotas

1988 – Amendment 8 established an ITQ system; also allowed minimum size to be suspended from year to year, merged the New England and Mid-Atlantic areas into one management area, and authorized an experimental fishery for information purposes

1991 – Size limit suspended for the year's fishing season due to the relatively low abundance of pre-recruit-sized clams (less than 4.3 inches) and the likely incentive under Amendment 8 to target beds of larger surfclams

1996 – Amendment 9 revised overfishing definitions in response to scientific review by NMFS

1998 – Amendment 10 placed a moratorium on entry to the Maine EEZ fishery

1998 – Amendment 11 achieved consistency among Mid-Atlantic and New England FMPs on vessel replacement and upgrade provisions, permit history transfer and splitting and renewal regulations for fishing vessels issued Northeast Limited Access Federal Fishery permits (Section 1 & 2, Section 3 & 4, Section 5, Section 6 & 7)

1999 – Amendment 12 (FR Notice) established new overfishing definitions, identified and described essential fish habitat, added framework adjustment procedure, and implemented operator permits

2004 – Amendment 13 (FR Notice) revised surfclam overfishing definition, addressed gear impacts to EFH, allowed for multi-year quotas, provided for a reversal of the suspension of the surfclam size limit, and allowed implementation of a mandatory vessel monitoring system (VMS)

2005 – Industry has lowest harvest since 2000, at 2.744 million bushels of surfclams, 81% of the 3.4 million bushel quota, due to market conditions

2007Amendment 14 (FR Notice)implemented standardized bycatch reporting methodology across Mid-Atlantic fisheries 

2007 –Framework 1 (FR Notice) of the FMP, requiring a vessel monitoring system (VMS) for vessels participating in the surfclam fishery to monitor closed areas and borders between state and Federal jurisdiction

 2011Amendment 16 (FR Notice) specified mechanisms to set acceptable biological catch (ABC), annual catch limits (ACLs), and accountability measures (AMs)

2013Regulatory Amendment (FR Notice) reopened a portion of the George Bank paralytic shellfish poisoning closed area to Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog harvesting.  To harvest in the reopened area vessels must follow a paralytic shellfish poisoning protocol.

Market and Landings Information

What are the primary markets for the Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog fishery?  Surfclams and ocean quahogs are generally processed for soups, chowders, and stews.  A small portion of landings are also sold in the bait market.

What are the recent landings and value of the commercial fishery?  In 2010, the ocean quahog average price was $0.65/lb and the fishery landed 35.3 million pounds worth $23 million.  Also in 2010, the surfclam average price was $0.68/lb and the surfclam fishery landed 40.7 million pounds of surfclams worth $28 million.

What are the top Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog  landing ports? In descending order:  Atlantic City, NJ, Pt. Pleasant, NJ, Ocean City, MD, Oceanside, NY, and Wildwood, NJ.

Scientific Information

Northeast Fisheries Science Center and Stock Assessments link - click here.

Scientific information - 2014

Stock

Overfishing?

Overfishing Definition

Overfished?

Overfished Definition

Rebuilding Program Progress

F/FMSY

Fishing Mortality Rate (F)

B/BMSY or B/BMSY Proxy

Biomass

Atlantic surfclam

No

Overfishing occurs when F exceeds FMSY = M (the natural mortality rate)

 

No

The stock is overfished when the current biomass estimate is less than ½ of the Bmsy proxy

None, declared rebuilt

.15

0.027

 

1.617

2.33 million mt meat weights

Ocean Quahog

No

Overfishing occurs when F exceeds F25% MSP

No

The stock is overfished when the minimum biomass is less than the biomass threshold of ½BMSY or ¼ of the virgin biomass

None, declared rebuilt

.0277

.0056

1.623

 

2.905 million mt of meats

 

Most Recent Environmental Impact Statement:  Amendment 13; 2003

Most Recent Biological Opinion:   None necessary

Most Recent Stock Assessment:  SAW 56 (2013) for surfclam and Stock Assessment Update (2013) for ocean quahogs

Next Stock Assessment:  Ocean quahog scheduled for 2015 and not currently scheduled for Atlantic surfclam

Fishery Quotas

Quota Monitoring 

Conversions
1 metric ton (mt) = 2,204.622 pounds (lb)
1 Maine bushel = 11 lb
1 Atlantic surfclam bushel = 17 lb
1 ocean quahog bushel = 10 lb

How often do the quotas change for this fishery? Quotas may be set for up to 3 years, unless otherwise specified.   

Research Set-Aside: Not applicable

What if specifications are not in place at the start of the fishing year? The existing specifications roll over until superseded. 

Are there in-season adjustments (changes mid-fishing year) in this fishery?  There are provisions for the closing or opening of areas and for the suspension of the surfclam minimum size limit.

Accountability Measures:  If the ACL for surfclam or ocean quahog is exceeded, and the overage can be attributed to one or more ITQ allocation holders, the full amount of the overage will be deducted from the appropriate ITQ allocation in the following fishing year. Any amount of an ACL overage that cannot be otherwise attributed to an ITQ allocation holder will be deducted from the appropriate ACL in the following fishing year.

If the Maine mahogany ocean quahog ACL is exceeded, and the Maine mahogany quahog fishery is responsible for the overage, then the Maine fishery ACT shall be reduced in the following year by an amount equal to the ACL overage.

Permits

Permit categories:

Permit Category Type Description Catch Limit Permits Issued in 2014 Number of Permits in Confirmation of Permit History*
Category 1   Commercial surfclam For commercial harvest and sale of surfclams Dependent upon IFQ allocation held 627 Not applicable
Category 6 Commercial Ocean Quahog For commercial harvest and sale of quahogs Dependent upon IFQ allocation held 622 Not applicable
Category 7 Commercial Maine Mahogany Quahog (Limited Access) For commercial harvest and sale of Maine mahogany quahogs 100,000 Maine bushels annually 30 8

* - A Confirmation of Permit History allows a vessel owner to retain permit eligibility in the event the vessel has been destroyed or sold but the owner retains the permit eligibility.  The permit in Confirmation of Permit History may then be placed on a vessel at a later date.

Control Date:  There are no control dates for this fishery

Other permit information:  There are three categories of permits in the fishery.  Two are open access permits, one for surfclam and one for ocean quahog.  These two permits, although open access, are ITQ permits for their respective species.  To fish under these open access ITQ permits, a permit holder must have previously received an allocation or must obtain allocation through an allocation transfer from a ITQ quota holder. 

The third permit category is a limited access permit, and is only for harvesting Maine mahogany quahogs north of 43°50' N. latitude.  A vessel issued a limited access Maine mahogany quahog permit and fishing for or possessing ocean quahogs within the Maine mahogany quahog zone (north of 43°50' N. latitude) must land its catch in the State of Maine.  The annual quota for harvest of mahogany quahogs from within the Maine mahogany quahog zone is 100,000 Maine bushels (1 Maine bushel = 1.2445 ft3).  The quota may be revised annually.  Catch from vessels with IFQ permits fishing in the Maine mahogany quahog zone will be counted against their respective surfclam or ocean quahog allocation.  All mahogany quahogs landed for sale in Maine by vessels issued a Maine mahogany quahog permit and not fishing for an IFQ allocation are applied against the Maine mahogany quahog quota, regardless of where the mahogany quahogs are harvested. 

Commercial operator permit:  Operator cards are required for any operator of a charter/party boat or a commercial vessel (including carrier and processor vessels) issued a vessel permit from the Greater Atlantic Region and fishing for or in possession of fish.

Commercial dealer/processor permit:  Surfclam and ocean quahogs may be sold only to persons possessing a valid Federal surfclam and ocean quahog dealer permit.

How to obtain a Federal fishing permit:  You can obtain a Federal fishing permit by submitting a permit application and supporting documentation to the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Permit Division.  More information can be found here.

Administrative Information

How to apply to shuck Atlantic surfclams and ocean quahogs at sea:  A vessel owner may apply to NMFS to shuck surfclams or ocean quahogs at sea.  If approved, NMFS will determine whether such trips will require an at-sea observer.  Additionally, NMFS will publish notification in the Federal Register to determine a conversion factor for shucked meats to accurately calculate the amount of surfclams or ocean quahogs harvested in the shell.  The shuck at sea form can be obtained by calling (978) 282-8438 and is also available here.    

How to request an ITQ allocation or cage tag transfer request:  An ITQ permit holder who owns an allocation may transfer part or all of his/her allocation to any qualified entity.  There are two types of transfers available:  Permanent ITQ allocation transfers and temporary cage tag transfers.  There is no limit on the number of transfers permitted per year.  An application for transfer may not be made between October 15 and December 31 of each year.  The cage tag transfer form can be obtained by calling (978) 282-8438 and is also available here

Possession Limits and Fish Size Requirements

Possession Limits:  There are no trip limits in the Atlantic surfclam ocean quahog fishery.  Instead, catch is limited on an annual basis according to each IFQ holder’s annual allocation. 

Fish size Limits:

Minimum fish size:  The minimum length for surfclams is 4.75 inches.  Length is measured at the longest dimension of the surfclam shell.  No more than 50 surfclams in any cage may be less than the minimum size limit.  If more than 50 surfclams in any inspected cage of surfclams are less than 4.75 inches in length, all cages landed on that trip are deemed to be in violation of the minimum size restriction.  However, the minimum size limit is considered, and may be suspended, on an annual basis.  To determine if there is currently a minimum size limit, you may call the Sustainable Fisheries Division at 978-281-9315.  There is no Federal minimum size limit for ocean quahogs. 

Maximum fish size: There is no maximum size limits in the Atlantic surfclam ocean quahog fishery. 

Gear Requirements

There are no specific gear requirements.  However, all vessels issued a Federal fishing permit for Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog must tag all cages that contain surfclams or ocean quahogs before offloading.  A tag must be fixed on or as near as possible to the upper crossbar of the cage. A tag is required for every 60 ft3 (1,700 L) of cage volume, or portion thereof.  Tags must not be removed until the cage is emptied by the processor.  Once emptied, the processor must promptly remove and retain the tags for 60 days after the end of the calendar year, unless otherwise directed by authorized law enforcement agents. 

Regulated, Closed, and Access Areas

BOSTON FOUL GROUND
 

Boston Foul Ground is closed to all surfclam or ocean quahog fishing The Boston Foul Ground is closed to all surfclam or ocean quahog fishing and is located at 42°25'36" N. lat., 70°35'00" W. long., with a radius of 1 nautical mile in every direction from that point.

NEW YORK BIGHT AND 106 DUMPSITE
 

 New York Bight and 106 dumpsite is closed to all surfclam or ocean quahog fishing The New York Bight (see below for detailed map and coordinates) and 106 dumpsite is closed to all surfclam or ocean quahog fishing.  The 106 Dumpsite is defined by straight lines connecting the following points in the order stated:

106 Dump Site
Point 1 39º 00’ 72º 30’
Point 2 39º 00’ 72º 00’
Point 3 38º 40’ 72º 00’
Point 4 38º 40’ 72º 30’

NEW YORK BIGHT
 

The New York Bight Closure Area is closed to all surfclam or ocean quahog harvesting and is located at 40°25'04" N. lat., 73°42'38" W. long., with a radius of 6 nm in every direction from that point, extending further northwestward, westward, and southwestward between a line from a point on the arc at 40°31'00" N. lat., 73°43'38" W. long., directly northward toward Atlantic Beach Light in New York to the limit of the state territorial waters of New York; and a line from the point on the arc at 40°19'48" N. lat., 73°45'42" W. long., to a point at the limit of the state territorial waters of New Jersey at 40°14'00" N. lat., 73°55'42" W.

New York Bight Closure Area is closed to all surfclam or ocean quahog harvesting

 

GEORGES BANK PSP CLOSURE AREA
 

Georges Bank PSP contaminated area, is closed to all bivalve molluscan shellfish fishing The Georges Bank PSP contaminated area, is closed to all bivalve molluscan shellfish fishing and is located east of 69° W. longitude, and south of 42°20' N. latitude and extends to the boundary of the exclusive economic zone.
 

REOPENED PORTION OF THE GB PSPS CLOSED AREA
 

 

Reopened Portion of the Georges Bank Closed Area

Point

Latitude

Longitude

1

42°00’

68°50’

2

42°00’

67°20’

3

41°00’

67°20’

4

41°00’

67°10’

5

40°40’

67°10’

6

40°40’

68°30’

7

41°30’

68°30’

8

41°30’

68°50’

1

42°00’

68°50’

 

A portion of the Georges Bank Closed Area is reopened for Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog harvesting.  In addition to the requirements of the traditional Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog fishery, to fish in the reopened area, a vessel must also do the following:

  1. Obtain a letter of authorization (LOA) from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  The LOA must be carried onboard for all trips into the area.  The LOA application will be sent out annually in your permit renewal package or it can be obtained by calling the Permits Division at (978) 282-8438; and  
  2. The vessel must adhere to the terms and conditions of the testing protocol as adopted into the National Shellfish Sanitation Program by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference.  All surfclams and ocean quahogs harvested from the area must be handled in accordance with the terms and conditions of the protocol from the first point of harvest through completion of testing and release by the State Shellfish Control Authority (SSCA).  Click here for the protocol; and
  3. Submit to NMFS a document from the SSCA detailing that the state will accept your vessel’s landings.  Please note that the SSCA may also require you to develop an agreement of understanding with the state, outlining any additional requirements the state may have; and
  4. Develop and submit to NMFS a written onboard lot segregation plan.  The SSCA in the intended state of landing and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must approve the proposed lot segregation plan.  The plan must also be maintained onboard the vessel conducting the harvesting; and 

Prior to leaving port at the start of a fishing trip, the vessels’ owner or operator must declare its intent to fish in the area by calling the Northeast Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) Team at (978) 281-9274.  The vessels’ owner or operator must also declare either an Atlantic surfclam or ocean quahog trip through the vessel’s VMS unit.  In the future VMS codes will be developed that are specific to the Reopened Portion of the GB Closed Area.  In the meantime, vessels will have to declare their intent to fish in the area by calling the Northeast VMS Team at the start of a trip as well as declaring an Atlantic surfclam or ocean quahog trip on their VMS unit.

Days-At-Sea (DAS) Requirements

The Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog fishery is not managed by a DAS system.  Please see the ‘Fishery Quota’ and ‘Trip Limit’ section of this webpage for more information on effort control in the Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog fishery.  

Exempted Fisheries

There are no exemption areas or exempted fisheries in the Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog fishery. 

Protected Resource and Marine Mammal Regulations

It is illegal to harvest or possess protected species unless otherwise specified under the regulations implementing the Endangered Species Act or Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Please see links below for more information or contact NMFS, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office Protected Resources Division at (978) 281-9328.

Protected Fish Species

Marine Mammals

Sea Turtles

Charter/Party or Recreational Rules and Regulations

The Atlantic surfclam ocean quahog fishery does not have a charter/party or recreational component.    

Commercial Reporting

Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) Requirements:  Any vessel issued an Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog permit is required to have an operational VMS. More information on VMS position reporting can be found here.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System Requirements:  The Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog fishery does not have any IVR requirements.

Observer Requirements:  The Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog fishery does not have any specific observer requirements, however all federally permitted vessels are obligated to carry an observer if randomly selected by the National Observer Program.

Catch Reporting, Vessel Trip Reports (VTRs), and Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) Positioning:  The owner or operator of any vessel issued an Atlantic surfclam /ocean quahog permit must maintain on board the vessel and submit to NMFS an accurate Atlantic surfclam /ocean quahog report for all fishing trips.  Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog reports must be postmarked or received within 3 days after the end of each reporting week. More information on Fishery Trip Reporting can be found here.

Additionally, if species other than Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog are being retained, an additional VTR must be submitted to NMFS as well.  Instructions for completing the VTR can be found here.

Charter/Party and Recreational Reporting

The Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog fishery does not have a charter/party or recreational component.