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NJ SURF CLAM SHORTAGE?

Anglers looking to hit the black sea bass grounds this week might want to consider adding secondary options to their strategic planning as fresh clams have suddenly become a hot and heavy commodity.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  October 23, 2017
NJ SURF CLAM SHORTAGE?
Bushel bags of clams will be harder to come by this fall as an ongoing surf clam shortage sends anglers to the freezers and Gulp canisters in search of alternatives.

With black sea bass finally reopened along the New Jersey and Delaware Coast as of Sunday, local anglers are suddenly faced with a new challenge – finding bait.

In compiling our weekly reports for the November edition of The Fisherman printed this morning, many reporting tackle shops throughout the region told of problems getting surf clams for their customers.

“Bottom fishing remains very good, especially now that it’s legal to keep some sea bass,” noted North Jersey field editor JB Kasper in his report fro the week. “However here too we were told that the clam shortage is sure to have an impact on the bottom fishing

In speaking with various shops and captains in the northern region, Kasper said the sudden shortage of clams has affected pricing and availability while citing one local theory that the passing eclipse may have pushed clams deeper into the sand making them harder for harvesters to find and dig out.

While astronomical changes could have had a temporary impact on the availability of surf clams, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and its Division of Fish and Wildlife (Division) has been monitoring a larger and more long-term trend. In their Marine Fisheries Administration Monthly Report for August, the Division references their 2017 surf clam stock survey showing that the estimated standing stock of surf clams was at 145,656 U.S. standard bushels, a historic low.

“Surf clam stocks have been at historic lows for more than the past 10 years, with speculation being that the decline is due to environmental factors, such as a warm water intrusion over the mid-Atlantic Shelf,” the recent Division report stated, adding that harvest has been extremely low for over a decade. “However, small surf clams were found in the deeper waters from Surf City to Seaside Park,” the report added.

Those anglers looking to hit the black sea bass grounds now that the season has reopened might want to consider adding secondary options to their strategic planning. While the simple hi-lo rig baited with fresh or salted clam strip is a surefire way to score, jigs often result in some of the larger specimens. “Experienced fishermen agree that jigs often out-fish standard rigs for the biggest fish by keeping shorts and pesky porgies at bay, which can pick a high/low bait rig clean in seconds,” writes Tom Migdalski in the November edition of The Fisherman (“Bigger Biscuits: Diamond-Jig Sea Bass” on page 18).

“Of course, don’t forget the Gulp, particularly those Swimming Mullets,” Migdalski writes.

Gulp! baits by Berkley of course have replaced many fresh, live options on the fluke grounds, but in times when natural baits become harder to find Gulp! can sometimes be a game saver. Heavier diamond jigs or bucktails with a teaser tied above to employ Gulp! on a baitholder hook or small jighead will get the job done. As you’re gearing up for a day at the local wrecks, just keep those clams in mind, or the lack thereof.

“Clams have been a real problem to get,” said John from Betty and Nick’s in Seaside Park in our Central Jersey report this week.

“Getting clams has been a real pain,” noted Dom at Gates Bait and Tackle in Point Pleasant Beach.

Surfcasters looking to tie one on in the wash for a striper this week might want to consider taking advantage of the availability of fresh bunker. Reports along the coast show a mix of peanuts and adult bunker getting harassed up and down the beach, making chunk bunker much of a “go to” in the surf anyway this week.

Those with their minds set on clamming up a striper or tipping bottomfishing rigs for humpbacks should plan to spend a little extra time seeking out their favorite baits; you could also go old school by picking up a recreational shellfish license ($10 residents, $20 non-resident, $2 for seniors and juniors) to hunt for your own clams in the back bays by tong, rake or treading slippers.

Though even one of my longtime clamdiggin’ and fishin’ buddies, Dave Rinear, tells me hard clam prices are seeing an uptick as well.

“Twelve and rising,” Rinear said of the price per large chowder clam in cents.

Not for nothing, but it might be time to clean out that garage freezer and consider socking away bait for the remainder of the 2017 season!

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