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For many Saltscapers, a summer rite of passage is clam digging, finding softshells, bar clams, razor clams, and quahogs to enjoy in a boil on the beach or in assorted dishes at home.

New to the hobby? Marcel Saulnier can help. Originally from neighbouring Little Brook, he’s manager of the Rendez-vous de la Baie Welcome   Centre in Church Point, N.S. Working for the Municipality of Clare, Marcel’s job is twofold: throughout spring and summer, along with his seasonal student, he focuses primarily on tourism, helping visitors plan their vacation and providing suggestions for activities throughout the region. In the off season, he works with the Welcoming Francophone Community project sponsored by the federal government, helping newcomers, especially immigrants, settle along the Clare shore.

Several years ago, the municipality started offering clam digging excursions for visitors. One day, a guide didn’t show up. Marcel had always dug with his father, so he stepped in. He’s done tours ever since.

“I like taking our guests to Pointe-à-Major (Major’s Point) in Belliveau’s Cove; it’s a small historic site,” Marcel says. “In the moments when we’re not finding clams, we talk about the site, so you get a little history.”

There are several clam species that you can harvest without a licence for recreation (meaning home consumption). Catch limits vary around the region. Marcel and his guests dig for bar clams, which live in the sand near the low-tide line. These are big clams, which must be at least eight centimetres long to harvest, and they move surprisingly fast through the sand when people dig for them. The maximum daily allowable catch for this part of the province’s waters is 200 clams a day.

The most common digging tool is a pitchfork. “Lightly poke the sand and see if you hit something,” Marcel explains. “Once you find a few, you get a feel for them, and you don’t have to dig up every rock on the beach.” He says if they don’t have enough pitchforks, he will give his to the guests and use his bare feet to find the shellfish, as he can feel them under him as he walks.

“Some folks will just dig up anything they poke,” he chuckles. “But then when they do pull up their first clam and see how big they are, it’s priceless to see their faces. They are just thrilled.”

Ironically, Marcel doesn’t like eating bar clams. “My parents will harvest them and then bottle (preserve) them for use throughout the year,” he says “Often they put them in rappie pie (a traditional Acadian potato casserole). I’ll eat around the clams and enjoy the rest of the pie! And people also add them to chowder, or bake them in bread crumbs and use them in clamburgers.”

These big clams are components of other dishes more than meals unto themselves, although commercial fishermen will sell the tongue or foot as clam strips, popular in many restaurants. “Some people eat them raw right on the beach,” Marcel adds. He prefers softshell clams, harvested elsewhere and served fried.

Marcel recommends clam digging as a family activity. “We do have to walk out several hundred metres along the beach before we can dig, we have a pole anchored in the beach so that we know we’re far enough out towards the water. We must, of course, watch the tides, which turn at different times each day, and we have tide charts so we know when low tide will be each day.”

A guide like Marcel will provide everything you need for the day for a modest fee  ($10 under 17, $20 for 17 and older), and you keep the clams. If you’re planning to go alone, be safe: watch the tide times and consult with fisheries officials about harvest limits and when algal blooms (AKA “red tide”) close beaches. Officials post signs when the fishery is closed, during which time it’s illegal to dig or consume shellfish. Otherwise, plan your recipes, grab your pitchfork and bucket, and dig in.


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