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MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
After a disappointing harvest in 2011, Manila clam growers had a better year in 2012, the last year for which harvest statistics are available. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Manila clam production in Washington state, which accounts for more than 90% of the U.S. harvest, rebounded to 560 metric tons of meats, a healthy 60% increase over 2011 and 20% higher than the five-year average. In spite of the increased production, demand remains strong and prices have averaged about $2.75/lb. to distributors.
Although the U.S. production of Manila clams is small, that’s not the case in Asia, where more than 2 million metric tons (live weight) are harvested each year, with China accounting for more than 90% of the production, almost all of which is farmed. (Manilas are native to Asia, but were introduced accidentally to the U.S. when cargo ships pumped out their ballast. They are also widely farmed in northern Italy, where they were introduced in the 1970s.)Although clam import data is not broken down by species, significant quantities of cooked Manila clams (the FDA does not allow importation of live or raw clams from China) from China are exported to the U.S. In 2012, China exported 12,000 metric tons of clams to the U.S., more than half of which are probably Manilas. The average ex-importer value was just under $1/lb.
Manila clams are generally sold live year-round, although some quantities may be frozen whole. These small clams tend to be soft and sweet in taste. Buyers generally recommend avoiding buying clams by the bushel, a common measure used on the East Coast, because the definition of a bushel can vary among suppliers. If buying by the bushel, check to make sure that the shipments are what was paid for. The best Manila clam shelf life and meat yield is in the winter time, which coincides with reduced prices due to lower demand from coastal resorts, according to some buyers. After the clams spawn in the summer, shelf life drops off.
Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) comes from eating clams that are contamined with toxic algae, also known as "red tide" from the color associated with the algal blooms.
POLLUTION & HABITAT | MARINE RESOURCES | RISK TO WILD STOCKS | MANAGEMENT | ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS
Clam farms are usually located in protected beaches, inlets, and estuaries that have been registered with a shellfish authority. On the U.S. Pacific coast, Manila clams are farmed from cultured beds that have received a national permit through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In British Columbia, Manila clams are cultured and harvested from wild beds by hand.
Shellfish are filterfeeders so they generally don’t require additional feed beyond seawater. Some farmers may add some algae as feed but clams can actually lower the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, and other particles in water, effectively cleaning it. As a result, no controls are necessary for effluent from Manila clam farming operations.
The majority of farming for clams occurs with the native range of individual species of clams, and although the grow-out phase for clams occurs in open systems (coastal areas and estuaries), the risk to wild stocks is therefore considered low. Additionally, there is little chance of escape by juvenile or adult clams since they are usually secured by netting &/or bags.
Water quality is monitored by a national shellfish sanitation program. Manila clam aquaculture production is well-managed, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
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