Learning to dig clamming

Shellfish Commission shows how to harvest a local natural resource

Shellfish Commission Vice President Bob Bilek explains the best way to harvest clams in the Sasco Beach shellfish bed. (Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn Photo)

The Fairfield Shellfish Commission recently taught residents how to harvest clams from Sasco Beach and other shoreline areas. (Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn Photo)

John Dean of Fairfield examines the first clam found during a recent dig at Sasco Beach, sponsored by the Fairfield Shellfish Commission. (Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn Photo)

Mary Cody, a member of Fairfield’s Open Space Commission, exploring one of the town’s beautiful open spaces, Sasco Beach. (Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn Photo)

Melissa Held and her son, Adam, 10, thought it would be fun to go clamming at the Sasco Beach shellfish beds.  (Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn Photo)

Residents search for clams in the Long Island Sound off Sasco Beach during a recent educational program on clam digging conducted by the Fairfield Shellfish Commission. (Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn Photo)

Residents search for clams in the Long Island Sound off Sasco Beach during a recent educational program on clam digging conducted by the Fairfield Shellfish Commission. (Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn Photo)

Shellfish Commission Vice President Bob Bilek explained what one might find as his rake pierced the beach sand.

“It’s a tough surface so you really have to reach in,” Bilek explained. “You’re going to find rocks, you’re going to find shells and you’re going to find clams.”

Clams were the goal of more than 50 Fairfield adults and families during a recent clam dig at Sasco Beach, sponsored by the Shellfish Commission.

The commission had scheduled a similar educational event five years ago, “but it was rained out,” President Sandy Wakeman said.

The sun shone on Sasco Beach July 27.

“The conditions are fine today,” Bilek said.

John Dean, of Fairfield, unearthed the first clam of the morning. (He also caught a large, live horseshoe crab, which he threw back into Long Island Sound.)

Dean, like many participants, said the Fairfield expedition brought back memories of clam digging as a child.

Growing up in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Dean recalled harvesting shellfish with his grandfather.

Other residents shared stories about digging clams while on vacation at beaches elsewhere in New England.

Melissa Held took her son Adam, 10, to Sasco Beach because he is interested in the environment, she said.

“I thought this would be fun,” Adam said.

His mother recalled her childhood, searching for holes in the sand that were made by the clams buried underneath. Digging deeply with the rake as they waded through muddy waters was a new experience for Held.

“This is very different,” Held said. “The surface is hard and you really have to dig. I hope we find something.”

Wearing sneakers, water shoes and flip-flops, participants were divided into two groups to search for shellfish.

Some parents, such as Norm Roberts, spent the morning playing on the beach’s sandbar with his two-year old daughter, Cecilia. A native of Norwalk, Roberts wanted to check out the Fairfield clam dig because he, too, remembered digging for clams with his father.

Bilek said the Norwalk shellfish beds have closed; the only places in this area are open to harvesting clams are in Fairfield, Westport and Bridgeport. Although those who live out of town are welcome to clam in Fairfield, permits are required and may be purchased at Town Hall.

There is a limit of one-half bushel of clams that may be harvested.

Commissioner Rich Ferrari said he was excited about Fairfield’s clam dig because it’s important to educate the public about “the great natural resources” found in this region.

“This event helps kids to be better stewards of the environment,” said Ferrari, chairman of this summer’s clam dig.

A veteran of the United States Navy, Ferrari developed a love for marine life growing up on Long Island Sound, he said. While attending the U.S. Naval Academy, Ferrari wrote his senior dissertation on “Environmental Politics in the Chesapeake Bay.” When Ferrari moved with his family to Fairfield in 2011, he decided to get involved in the town’s Shellfish Commission.

Mary Cody of Southport, a member of Fairfield’s Open Space Commission, went to the beach to harvest clams because she wanted to spend time in one of the town’s “beautiful open space locations.”

“It’s just transforming to be out here,” Cody said. “You feel relaxed and you’re meeting new people. This is something you can do over and over again.”

The Shellfish Commission provided clam chowder, crackers and beverages. Bilek said the commission wanted to share with people different ways to prepare the clams they harvested.

While Superstorm Sandy caused serious damage along Fairfield’s shoreline, the Shellfish Commission said the storm significantly improved the Sasco Beach shellfish beds by washing the sand closer to the shore. This season, the beds were restocked with more than 25,000 clams for residents to harvest.

Because the bed is occasionally closed because of high bacteria counts, those interested in harvesting clams are asked to call the Shellfish Hotline at 203-256-3074 to confirm whether the Sasco Beach Recreational bed is open.

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