I count my involvement in New York’s shellfish industry back to the mid 1970’s culling clams for a clam buyer in Halesite behind Jeff’s Seafood. I went into the Marines in 1976 out of high school getting out in 1980 by 1981 I was clamming full time out of Centerport harbor digging in Huntington and Northport bays as well as Long Island Sound. It was not long before I became the secretary of North Shore Baymen’s Association. Long Island Oyster Farms (LIOF) had large oyster leases in Huntington and Northport bays. In 1976 when the lease was renewed the lease was changed from oyster cultivation o
nly to include other shellfish over the baymen’s objections. The leases had a lot of natural clams on then and LIOF was already turning to hydraulic shellfish dredges for taking hard clams and these were no farm clams they were a vast natural spawning resource for the Huntington/Northport  bay complex. There is a lot more history around this subject that I want to get into and will in other sections of my page on this web site.
At that point in the early 80s I was looking at the public trust aspects of the issue, that is basically that the natural shellfish are a public resource and natural clam and oyster beds can’t be leased. The Great South Bay clam bonanza of the 70s had come to an end the deep water set of clams off Huntington and Bayville had grow mostly to cherrystones and chowders  and was less profitable baymen were dropping out of the business like patrons at last call a party looking for a new venue. A lot of the best baymen from the south shore went does to Florida which had good clam sets at that time.
In the early 80s transplanting clams from uncertified to certified water was proposed by the town of Huntington with one of our local clam buyers acting as an intermediary. I got involved in a hand harvest transplant from public land in Little Neck Bay to public land in Huntington to use the clam diggers term of the clams in little neck “asshole thick”, but the price we were being paid was very low. Soon we made a deal to dig the Little Neck Bay clams for a company from out in the Peconic Bays. This deal was doomed by its reliance on trust. We were to dig the clams and turn them over to a company that had underwater land in Little Peconic Bay. The clams would be planted on the bottom in segregated lots for a 21 day cleansing period re-harvested by dredge at which point they would be sold and we would get half. So we had 12 diggers all catching different amounts of clams, clams planted on lots 1-5. The math was ridiculous Joe dug 9% of the clams on lot 2 and so is entitled to 9% of 50% of what is re-harvested. The company’s planting and harvest records sucked and there is no good way to figure percentages in that circumstance.
It was because of all this confusion we went out to this dredge boat operation to see how the clams were being harvested partly because the owner was claiming high breakage I brought my diving gear to troubleshoot the dredge. This was a conveyor dredge where the dredge head and blade ramps the clams up onto a conveyor belt and up to the boat.
Anyway the owner is wearing cowboy boots on the dredge boat and telling us he’s an honest man and we should be patient. Sure enough the clam breakage is around twenty percent. I suited up, got in the water and pulled myself down along the side of the conveyor to the dredge head. It was amazing to see the operating dredge head but I went down to see about the breakage. I put my hand down between the manifold that blows high pressure water into the bottom and the blade that ramps the clams onto the conveyor and realized that the clams were in a layer at the top of the sand/silt/water slurry created by the water jets and they were breaking on the blade edge. We reset the blade and the breakage dropped dramatically. While I was down there I was fascinated by the by how deeply the water jets penetrated the bottom reaching down between manifold and blade into what was the bottom you feel a violent emulsification. The sediment leaves the dredge like smoke billowing from a chimney.
At the end of the day the breakage problem was solved but we realized that the owner himself didn’t know or care what lot. We confronted him on it and settles on a cash price for our clams and his harvest problems be damned. Clam digging 101: when I put my clams on your truck pay me my money down.