The Mast-Head: Mixed News on Clams

This is the time of the year that our thoughts turn to shellfish

    Forget about turkey, this is the time of the year that our thoughts turn to shellfish. That is, if you are inclined, as I am, toward such things and did not get quite enough of the fall striper run.

    Shellfish news from local waters has been mixed. Most disturbing was a report this week that the East Hampton Town Trustees’ scallop sanctuary in Napeague Harbor was illegally dredged and sustained considerable damage to its eelgrass beds. One of the trustees filed a police report; there is no word on suspects.

    Separately, just over a week back, the state expanded its seasonal ban on shellfishing in the northernmost part of Accabonac Creek, citing fecal coliform trends. The trustees bridled at this, concerned that the state was doing too little testing to be sure one way or the other about the safety of the creek.

    Such seasonal closures have a silver lining: I can’t see the sense in clamming during the warm months anyway, when waterfront houses here are full — and an unknown number are leaching household waste into the water. Then too, I can go dig at my semi-secret spots in late fall and winter without worrying that high-season weekend warriors will catch on and clam them out.

    Clams had a brief flurry of international attention last week when scientists reported that a quahog relative dug off Iceland was 507 years old, making it the most-aged animal known. Ming, as they named it, had first been pegged at just over 400, but another counting of its annual rings revised the estimate upward.

    Our local clams can run old, but not that old — up to 100, I read somewhere. One clamshell, which I keep on my office windowsill, measures about four inches at its widest and appears to have roughly 30 annual rings — not quite so old to preclude its contribution to a pot of chowder.

    I am reassured that the winning clams in the town trustees’ annual contest, each as big as a man’s fists held together, are thrown back to survive another day. Heaven knows just how old those beasts really are.