About The Cooperative
The Heritage Shellfish Cooperative is a partnership of three shellfish growers specializing in raising Eventide Littlenecks™ – also known as quahogs - in New Jersey’s beautiful and beloved bays and estuaries. The combined experience of these member/owners on the waters of New Jersey’s coastal bays and the Atlantic Ocean exceeds 140 years, and their environmentally sound techniques ensure that their families will be positioned to continue their craft at least that long into the future.
These established clammers, some from generations of clammers before them, formed the Heritage Shellfish Cooperative in 2013 in the hopes of reaching a wider audience of seafood lovers and connecting them with the product of their skills: responsibly raised, hand-harvested New Jersey Eventide Littlenecks™.
For these member/owners, being a clammer is a proud tradition and working these local waters is a way of life. They each spend long hours in the water and out to craft delicious seafood, and forming a cooperative means that they can collaborate instead of competing.
Coastal New Jersey has a centuries old tradition of clamming. Unfortunately, numerous environmental factors left the wild clam population suffering, and the clammers without a healthy population from which to fish sustainably. Instead of abandoning their craft, they built something new. Their techniques today represent almost four decades of innovation and the creation of a strong New Jersey clam aquaculture industry.
Today, Heritage Shellfish members control every step of their growing process. They preserve broodstock, cultivate baby clams in shoreline hatcheries, and then seed and tend clams in open New Jersey waters for a minimum of three years before they’re harvested, all the while maintaining their salt water farms in harmony with nature, just rakes and hard work.
Harvesting happens year round, regardless of temperature, by hand with a rake in waist and chest-deep water, 200 clams and a whole lot of calories burned in each stroke. It’s more difficult and labor intensive than collecting wild clams, but it ensures that clam aquaculture has a very modest carbon footprint.
Though other forms of aquaculture require inputs like commercial feed and antibiotics to prevent crowding-related diseases, the cultivation of clams and other shellfish is incredibly environmentally friendly. Clams feed on phytoplankton, a population which left unchecked can reduce the vitality of mid-Atlantic waters, so the clams themselves are actually restoring waters where native sea plants, like eel grass, have been unable to grow for decades. Besides screens used to protect cultivated clams from predators, clam aquaculture requires that no pesticides or pest deterrents be introduced to the water.
Heritage Shellfish Cooperative members hold themselves to the highest standard for marine stewardship and preservation, conforming to East Coast Shellfish Growers Association Environmental Code of Practice and Best Management Practices, and they work actively with Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experimental Station and Cooperative Extension to share best aquaculture practices.