Clam digging with forager Sylvain Cormier
by Allison Cooke
One of the most popular traditions on Prince Edward Island, for locals and visitors alike, is clam digging. Heading onto the red sands, especially if it is in the evening or early morning, is a beautiful time on PEI to forage your own dinner.
You will want to head out during low tide, so you can walk out onto the sandbars, usually on the south shore, where the sands are red and silty. Once you arrive, the clams are easy to spot—look for clusters of holes in the sand, about the diameter of a pencil in size. Most often, the bigger the hole, the bigger the clam—but be careful! When you get close, sometimes they will spit their water at you!
All you will need for supplies is a bucket and a garden spade—they work best at not breaking the clams when you are digging. Dig about the depth of your spade, and pull up the sand in a steady motion. If you move too fast, you could risk breaking it. A broken clam is usually not fit for eating by the time you get it home, so leave them on the beach. Also, it is always good to rinse your clams on the beach with clean seawater—they are quite sandy, and the seawater will make them purge a lot of the sand.
The most common and popular type of clam on PEI is the steamer, or as it is sometimes known as, a spit or squirt clam. It gets it name from the way it spits its water at you, but also because they are delicious when steamed. Quahogs are slightly larger but not as large as the bar clam. Razor clams are not as commonly harvested as they are difficult to fish and there is not a large market for them.
You do not need a license to fish for clams on PEI, which makes it open and accessible to the public. However, there are rules to be followed that are very important in keeping clams sustainable. These rules are in place to let the smaller clams grow another season before we harvest them; not following them could result in a fine of $100 per clam. Soft shell clam season opens in April and runs until December, and they can only be a minimum 2 inches in diameter if they are a steamer, 4 if they are a bar clam. Quahog season opens in July and runs until November—but you are not allowed to fish them on Sundays. These clams must be at least 2 inches in diameter in size. You can dig up to 300 clams, but only 100 can be quahogs, and 100 bar clams. Only dig from sunrise to sunset, but be sure to follow some common courtesy when using the beaches, such as leaving no trace. You do not have to worry about backfilling what you dig, as the tides will do that for you.
So this summer, and into the fall, head out at low tide and harvest your own fresh clams for supper. It gives you the opportunity to connect directly with the beautiful beaches on PEI, as well as the satisfaction of foraging your own meal.
Sylvain Cormier is a local forager, and the owner of Everything Wild, a business that promotes unique and wild edibles on Prince Edward Island. It is his top priority to encourage eating locally and sustainably, as well as appreciating the food growing in our backyards.