Clam, Razor, clams
Capture method — Hand-gathering
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — England
Stock detail — North West IFCA district only
Updated: November 2019.
There are currently no permitted commercial razor clam fisheries in English waters, but there appear to be no restrictions on hand gathering for personal use.
The stock status of razor clams in England is unknown and the only management currently in place is a minimum conservation reference size of 100mm.
Generally, dredging is the most popular method to harvest razor clams as it is highly efficient. However, dredging can be destructive to benthic habitats and there can be bycatch of vulnerable species. Hand gathering is much less efficient but much more selective, presenting much fewer negative environmental impacts and a higher quality product.
Market demand for razor clams has been rapidly growing market for South East Asia (predominantly China). The UK market is limited to mostly restaurants. Three native species of the genus Ensis are currently commercially exploited in Scotland and Eire: E. ensis, E. siliqua and E. arcuatus. The market prefers the larger E. siliqua.
Razor clams are bivalve molluscs. There are 6 species found in British intertidal waters. 2 are of commercial importance: Ensis siliqua and E arcuatus. Spawning occurs in summer, and fertilised eggs develop into mobile larvae hours after fertilisation. The larval phase includes several stages and lasts for about 3-4 weeks, during which time they drift with the current. They then settle, attaching themselves to sand or shell by byssal threads. At around 0.5cm length juveniles burrow into sand. Relative to other commercially important bivalves, Ensis are long-lived, slow growing, and attain sexual maturity late in life. They may survive to 10-15 years and an average adult can reach a size of 12.5cm, although growth will cease by age 10. They can live in excess of 20 years. E. arcuatus reaches sexual maturity between 73 and 130 mm and E. siliqua mature between 118 - 140 mm in Scotland. They are filter feeders and normally lie vertically in the sediment with 2 small siphons, through which they feed, visible on the surface. Razor clams burrow into the sediment around the extreme low water mark and in the shallow subtidal and are capable of rapid burrowing if disturbed.
Criterion score: 0.75 info
The stock status of razor clams is unknown. Previous studies have been authorized but few have been conducted: the 2006 CEFAS Eastern Irish Sea bivalve survey found that overall numbers recorded were low. The north Irish Sea stocks are the most exploited (Tully, 2017), at high levels and intel suggests there has been a risk of illegal fishing.
The Liverpool Bay Razor Clam (Ensis spp.) survey suggested that abundance of razor clam was very variable dependent on location.” This differs for species found in the NWIFCA District where populations of different species inhabit similar locations and have been reported to move around. Previous work by CEFAS in 2013 - 14 to carry out experimental electro-fishing for razor clams in the District was abandoned, after two attempts resulted in no catch from areas where Ensis spp. were previously reported.
Razor clam are a relatively slow-growing and long-lived species. They also have intermittent recruitment which increases their susceptibility to over-exploitation.
Criterion score: 0.75 info
The only management measures for razor clams are the minimum landing size of 100mm. Age of maturity is estimated to be at least three or four years (which is around the minimum landing size). However some sources suggest that maturity may not occur until greater lengths (i.e. 120 mm).
There is currently no legal commercial fishery for razor clam but there have been multiple requests and demand to fish for razor clams and there is intelligence suggesting that there is a risk of illegal fishing. To mitigate this, NWIFCA has enacted a Use of a Dredge Byelaw 2017 to prevent illegal uses of dredges (where dredges are being used to fish for razor clams).
A previous CEFAS study in the area recommended management measures should include making gear more selective to reduce shell damage and increase the minimum landing size.
Criterion score: 0.25 info
Hand gathering is a very low impact method with regard to bycatch and habitat. The fishing method is very selective. Birds (including the eider duck and scoters) are the main predators of adult razor clams and crustaceans and fish predate upon razor clam larvae. Since it is unknown if the amount of razor clams removed is at a sustainable level, the impact of the unreported fishery on the ecosystem is unknown. Additionally, the process of hand-gathering, when razor clams are flush out by pouring salt into the burrow, can pose a risk to the seabed as it can increase local salinity levels.
Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.Abalone
Clam, Manila (Farmed)
Crab, brown or edible
Lobster, Norway, Langoustine, Dublin Bay prawn or scampi
Mussel, Chilean (Farmed)
Mussel, mussels (Farmed)
Oyster, Native, oysters
Oyster, Pacific, oysters
Oyster, Pacific, oysters (Caught at sea)
Oyster, Pacific, oysters (Farmed)
Prawn, King (whiteleg), prawns
Prawn, Northern prawns, Northern shrimp
Prawn, Tiger prawns (Farmed)
Scallop, King, scallops
Scallop, Queen, scallops
Squid, Japanese flying
ReferencesAitken, A., and Knott, M. 2018. Razor Clams in the North Western IFCA District: is there potential for a sustainable fishery?. Report for NWIFCA. Available at: https://www.nw-ifca.gov.uk/app/uploads/Agenda-Item-7-Annex-B-Razor-Clams-in-the-NWIFCA-District.pdf.
Murray, F., Copland, P., Boulcott, P., Robertson, M.,, Bailey, N., 2014. Electrofishing for razor clams (Ensis siliqua and E. arquatus): effects on survival and recovery of target and non-target species. Report for Marine Scotland Science. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Philip_Boulcott/publication/277138356_Electrofishing_for_razor_clams_Ensis_siliqua_and_E_arquatus_effects_on_survival_and_recovery_of_target_and_non-target_species/links/5562ec9308ae8c0cab3341b0/Electrofishing-for-razor-clams-Ensis-siliqua-and-E-arquatus-effects-on-survival-and-recovery-of-target-and-non-target-species.pdf
NWIFCA. 2018. Minimum Sizes. [Accessed 17/05/18]. Available at: https://www.nw-ifca.gov.uk/minimum-sizes/
NWIFCA Technical, Science and Byelaw Committee 6th February 2018. RAZOR CLAM REPORT. Available at: https://www.nw-ifca.gov.uk/app/uploads/Agenda-Item-7-Razor-Clam-Report-TSB-Feb-2018.pdf
Cappell, R., J. Hambrey, J. Addison (2017). DFA Dutch North Sea Ensis Public Comment Draft Report. Acoura Marine. MSC Sustainable Fisheries Certification. Accessed online at: https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/dfa-dutch-north-sea-ensis/@@assessments Accessed on: 20/11/17.