About the Species
U.S. wild-caught ocean quahog is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Above target population level.
At recommended level.
Fishing gear used to harvest quahogs has minimal impacts on habitat.
Fishing gear used to harvest quahogs is designed to minimize bycatch.
- According to the 2017 stock assessment the ocean quahog stock is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing.
- Ocean quahogs are relatively unproductive and can only support low levels of fishing.
- Population levels are declining despite relatively low fishing rates, but remain above target levels.
- Ocean quahogs are bivalve mollusks—they have two hinged shells that enclose their body.
- Shells are thick and oval-shaped.
- Outside is a dull gray with growth rings that can be used to determine its age.
- Interior is white with a purple border.
- Most quahogs in U.S. waters are 2.8 to 4.3 inches in shell length.
- Ocean quahogs spawn by releasing eggs and sperm into the water column where the eggs are fertilized.
- Larvae drift with the currents for at least 30 days until they develop into juveniles and settle to the bottom.
- Ocean quahogs spawn once a year, either in the summer or fall. The spawning season is sometimes extended over a number of months as quahogs release eggs and sperm a little at a time.
- Ocean quahogs are among the longest-lived marine organisms in the world. Off the U.S. East Coast, where the fishery takes place, ocean quahogs can live for at least 200 years.
- They grow very slowly and do not start to reproduce until around age 6, and do not reach a commercially harvestable size until about age 20.
- Ocean quahogs are filter feeders. They bury themselves in the ocean floor and pump oxygen-filled water and food particles in through their siphons, which extend above the surface of the ocean floor.
- They feed on microscopic algae.
- Many animals prey on juvenile ocean quahogs, including invertebrates such as rock crabs, sea stars, and other crustaceans, and fish such as longhorn sculpin, ocean pout, haddock, and cod.
- Once ocean quahogs have reached a certain size, they have a very low predation rate. They burrow in the sandy ocean floor and their thick shells close completely, providing substantial protection from potential predators.
Where They Live
- Ocean quahogs are found in the western Atlantic as far south as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
- NOAA Fisheries, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and state resource management agencies manage the ocean quahog fishery.
- Managed under the Surfclam-Ocean Quahog Fishery Management Plan:
- Fishermen must have a permit for commercial harvest ocean quahogs.
- Individual transferable quota (catch shares) program – managers set an annual catch limit for federal waters and allocate it among individual fishermen or vessel owners. These individual quotas can be sold or leased.
- Closed areas due to environmental degradation or to toxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP).
- Fishermen harvesting ocean quahogs from Georges Bank have additional requirements under the PSP testing protocol.
- Mandatory vessel monitoring systems.
- Fishermen must maintain and submit logbooks of each fishing trip to document catch.
- The ocean quahog fishery off Maine is managed separately because of differences in biological, fishery, and market characteristics.
- The portion of this fishery in federal waters off the Maine coast is managed under a relatively small catch limit that is separate from the catch limit used to manage the rest of the quahog fishery (described above).
- To participate in this fishery, vessels must have a separate limited access federal permit, use a mandatory vessel monitoring system, and maintain and submit logbooks of each fishing trip.
- State authorities manage the portion of this fishery in Maine state waters.