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Clams for People and Nature
Next time you crave a bowl of clam chowder, think of the Great South Bay in New York.
In the 1970s, over half of all clams eaten in the United States came from Great South Bay.
But with no limits on the number clams that could be harvested, the clamming boom in the 1970s was followed by a catastrophic collapse of the clam population – a collapse that still is directly linked to environmental problems faced by the Bay today.
Clams are water filters. When clams in Great South Bay were abundant, they filtered 40 percent of the water every single day. Today, there are only enough hard clams to filter about one percent of this vast body of water daily. Without shellfish, water quality declines — and creatures that depend on clams, scallops, and oysters as food sources suffer, along with coastal economies
Since 2004, The Nature Conservancy has been working to restore Great South Bay’s clam population in a three-pronged approach:
- Stocking the bay with reproductive adult clams,
- Helping to enact laws to protect the existing clam populations, and
- Working with partners to restore degraded water quality.
“The new approach strikes a balance of respecting the interests of families traditionally engaged in commercial and recreational shellfishing, while giving the Great South Bay towns the tools they need to collaboratively work to rebuild and sustainably manage the hard clam resource moving forward in a fair and transparent way,” said Carl LoBue, senior marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island.
“What the new limits mean is that when clams become abundant again, they won’t be over-harvested. Instead, as clams become more abundant over time, the towns can relax regulations by allowing more clams to be harvested.”
We can all raise a cup—or bowl—of clam chowder to that.
You can help our coastal restoration efforts to ensure habitats that are important to people and nature are healthy and resilient for generations to come.
Learn more about this New York bay, where the Conservancy is working with partners to restore clam populations for people and nature.
Approach and mapping tools for coastal planners, and helping people and nature adapt to sea level rise and other coastal hazards.
Highlights from a Decade of Partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Restoration Center.