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The timing and length of clam season varies between countries, states, and communities. Some area seasons are year-round, while others may last a period of months or weeks at a time. In general, coastal areas set their clam seasons to coincide with better weather for clammers and close the coastal areas when there are dangerous levels of algae in coastal waters, to monitor clam populations, or to allow time for younger clams to mature. Sometimes it is necessary for departments of fish and wildlife to close the season when there is a danger either to clammers or the clam populations to give conditions time to improve.
It’s always a wise idea to check information on clam season regulations by visiting the area’s department of fishing and wildlife or calling the local shellfish information hotline. Even if a state, country, or community has a set season each year, a regulating agency may make changes at any time in response to local conditions and to protect both the clam populations and people who wish to harvest clams. Most areas also require purchasing a clam license.
In areas that experience red tide conditions, clams ingest diatoms, or algae, that increase the amount of toxins in them. This makes it dangerous for humans to eat them. Clam season may be suspended until red tide conditions abate and the clams are safe to eat again. Areas may close their seasons in response to dangerous weather conditions, like hurricanes or severe storms, until weather improves and conditions are safe for clam hunters to return to the area.
Conservation concerns frequently lead agencies to use the off-season to assess the health of the clam population in the area. If there are too few adults due to over-harvesting, clam season may be delayed for a time or fewer harvesting seasons may be offered each year to allow young clams to mature. If the total population appears to be decreasing to dangerous levels, the season may be closed until population levels stabilize.
Most communities limit more than just the season in which clams can be harvested. They frequently set limits on the type of equipment used, like clamming rakes that must have a minimum clearance between tines. Other limitations are set on the total number of clams a clam digger may take and limits on species of clams. Many areas also require that the clam hunter take the first 15 clams, no matter what the size or condition. Some areas require that clam hunters re-bury clams that they have rejected, especially certain species that may be harmed if left on top of the sand.