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Bay Clams
Bay Clams

About Bay Clams

Oregon estuaries are rich with many species of clams, although only a few of these species are commonly harvested. Gaper, butter, cockle, littleneck, and softshell are primarily harvested due to their abundance, size, and taste. A wide variety of other bivalve species are found in Oregon estuaries, but not commonly harvested due either to their scarcity or lack of palatability.

Successful clamming does require some knowledge and preparation. Before clamming, harvesters should be aware of weather, regulations, closures, responsible harvest, and techniques.

See Grant McOmie's "Grant's Getaway" episode on bay clamming in Oregon.

Species profile

Gaper clam

Gaper Clam, Tresus capax

Gaper clams are found in several Oregon estuaries.They are known by a variety of names including blue, empire, horse and horseneck clams.They are Oregon's largest common clam. Geoducks can grow much larger (as much as 10 pounds!) but are rarely found south of Puget Sound in Washington. There are two species of gaper clams in Oregon. Tresus capax is by far the most common, Tresus nuttalli is found in most estuaries that have gapers but are rarely harvested.

How to Dig Gaper Clams

How to Clean Gaper Clams

butter clam

Butter Clam, Saxidomus gigantea

Butter clams are found throughout Oregon's nearshore areas and larger estuaries. Butter clams are excellent burrowers and are found abundantly in shell, sandstone, and even rocky areas, however due to the ease of digging, butter clams are most often harvested in sand and mud substrates. Butter clams are most often found in large estuarine systems, such as Coos, Tillamook, and Yaquina, because of their higher salinity preference. They are known by a variety of names including Washingtons, Martha Washingtons, Beefsteak, Quahog.

How to dig Butter Clams


Cockle, Clinocardium nuttallii

The most common cockle found in Oregon is the "Heart cockle". This common name relates to its scientific name Clinocardium nuttallii. Translated from Latin this name means "Nutall's sloping heart".

The species name "Nuttallii" comes from the person who first described the species. Thomas Nuttall was a well respected botanist, orinthologist, and explorer of the 19th century. While exploring the Pacific Northwest in an 1830s expedition, the heart cockle was among the specimens he collected and described. Those familiar with taxonomy will likely recognize his surname from several species of flowers and birds.

How to dig Cockles

Littleneck, Leukoma staminea

Littleneck clams are a much sought after clam. They are found in rocky or gravelly areas of high, stable salinity. These clams are often confused with Manila littleneck clams, a smaller related (but non-native) clam that is farmed in mariculture operations and is available on local markets.

Only Coos, Yaquina, and Tillamook bays have populations. They can also be found in rocky nearshore areas for those brave enough.

Softshell clam

Softshell, Mya arenaria

Softshell clams occur in almost all of Oregon’s estuaries and their range can extend very high into the estuary.

Softshell clams are native to the East coast, where they are the subject of an important commercial fishery. They are believed to have been introduced to Oregon in the late 1800s, timed with the attempt to begin a fishery for the eastern oyster.

How to dig Softshell Clams
Softshell Clam Advisory (7/13/15)
How to Clean Softshell Clams

Purple Varnish Clam

Purple varnish clam (Nuttallia obscurata)

Purple varnish clams were recently introduced to Oregon, most likely from ballast waters from Asia.

Purple varnish clams are found in very high densities. Limits were recently increased and separated to allow increased harvest of these. 72 are allowed per day.


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