Maintaining Clam Gardens

Coastal First Nations knowledge holders note that the very act of harvesting clams keeps clam beaches productive.  Digging for clams creates healthy bivalve habitat by turning over the beach sands and silts, exposing these sediments to oxygen. In an unworked beach, seaweed and dead clams can accumulate on the surface of the beach, suffocating live clams.  When digging, people ensured that populations were healthy by thinning clams or preferentially harvesting larger ones to allow younger clams to grow. We learned from Indigenous harvesters that some people added broken shells back to the beach to augment the sediments as needed. Finally, boulders dislodged from the wall by winter storms, and cobbles and boulders unearthed while digging, were cleaned from the beach surface and replaced in the wall.

Photo: Gitla (Elroy White).
Digging for clams in Kitasu territory. Photo: Gitla (Elroy White).

Today, fewer people are harvesting clams than in the recent and more distant past. Access to the beaches is tightly regulated, gas is expensive, and there are less people living along many stretches of coastline. Many clam beaches are now untended.  In these beaches, clams are crowded, sediments are compact, and sea lettuce (Ulva sp.), driftwood and dead clams cover the beach surfaces.

Photo: Marco Hatch.
Large, dead butterclame and horseclams in a dormant clam garden. Photo: Marco Hatch.

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