Surf clams (Spisula solidissima) and ocean quahogs (Arctica islandica ) are bivalve mollusks that occur along the U.S. East Coast, primarily from Maine to Virginia, with commercial concentrations found off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Surf clam fishing began in the 1940s and ocean quahog fishing began in the 1970s. These two closely related fisheries are largely conducted by the same vessels, using hydraulic clam dredges. There are a small number of landing sites and processing facilities, some of which are vertically integrated in that they also own harvesting vessels. Most of the catch is shucked and processed into products such as minced clams, clam strips, juice, sauce, and chowder. In addition, a small fishery for fresh in-shell ocean quahogs in the Gulf of Maine began in the 1980s. Apart from a small bait fishery, recreational fishing is insignificant. The SCOQ fishery was the first to be managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the first individual transferable quota (ITQ) program approved under the act.
Prior Regulatory Conditions in the Fishery
Prior to ITQs, the SCOQ fishery was managed through a combination of size limits, annual and quarterly quotas, and in the case of surf clams, fishing time restrictions intended to spread out the catch and even out product input to processors. All vessels were required to detail their catches in official logbooks. These logbooks yielded a clear record of individual vessel performance. Permits were required, but were not restricted in number or availability.
Prior Biological and Ecological Conditions in the Fishery
The biomass of surf clam and ocean quahog populations is dominated by a few large year classes, and year-to-year recruitment variability is high. Neither species demonstrates a statistically significant relationship between the size of the spawning stock and the number of clams recruited. Consequently, harvesters rely on a few large year classes to buffer interannual variability. Surf clams grow slowly and are long-lived, but are sedentary and thus easy to exploit when found. Surf clams were subject to heavy fishing pressure from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, localized stocks were depleted, and the fishing fleet moved to new grounds. In 1976, a period of low dissolved oxygen killed a large portion of the surf clam stock off New Jersey, prompting tighter harvest restrictions.