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Inside Rhode Island’s Quahog Industry, A Shrinking Workforce

This rack sorts the clam, and fishermen toss back any that are small enough to fall between the cracks. Photo by Sofia Rudin for The Public's Radio

This rack sorts the clams, and fishermen toss back any that are small enough to fall between the cracks. Photo by Sofia Rudin for The Public’s Radio

“What I’m trying to do is I’m trying to get underneath all the shells and try to get to the quahogs,” says Dave Ghigliotti. He’s been a shellfisherman in Rhode Island for over 30 years. I went with him to dig for quahogs just off of Rocky Point State Park in Narragansett Bay.

There’s some debate over the name quahog. Some people use it to talk about the biggest clams. But basically all the hard shelled clams we eat here in Rhode Island are one species: the Northern Quahog. Other names you might have heard – like littlenecks, topnecks, cherrystones, or chowder clams –describe the different sizes.

When Ghigliotti got into the business, there were about two thousand licensed commercial quahoggers in the state. Now the number is less than half that.

Some left the industry because the money isn’t great. Ghigliotti says clam prices have barely gone up since the 80s. And, he adds, quahoggers have to compete for space on the bay with the growing number of oyster farms.

“That industry’s growing, so they’re always looking for space. And the problem is, once they lease a piece of real estate we can’t fish it anymore. We’re really pretty migratory. You see these guys here today, but once this place has had kind of its day, we move on to another place,” Ghigliorri says.

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