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Hard Calm or Northern Quahog                          Mercenaria mercenaria.



Hard Clams




Life Cycle


Ark Clams


Soft Shell Clams

 Hard Calm or Northern Quahog                          Mercenaria mercenaria

Hard clam can be found throughout Barnegat Bay.

In winter, when the water temperature get below 50 Fahrenheit, clams burrow into the bay bottom where they remain until the following spring when the water temperatures rise and the breeding cycle begins.

Clams survive by getting oxygen and food from the waters of the bay.  As the bay warms up the nutrients become more plentiful.  This includes algae that is the principal food for clams. 

The smallest clams are called juveniles.  They can range from the size of a grain of sand to about 3/4 " (.75 inch).

Hard clams have been harvested and sold for many, many years.  Instead of referring to the size of the clam by measurement (inches or millimeters/centimeters), calms can be purchased in seafood stores by commercial names referring to the following sizes:

  • Little Neck - small and tender they are usually steamed open or eaten on the half shell.

  • Top Neck - typically eaten raw on the half shell, grilled open or as a baked clam appetizer

  • Cherrystone -  eaten raw or most often used for baked clam appetizers such as clams casino

  • Chowder - the largest and toughest hard clams.  usually wind up in chowders

Other sizes that are not as commonly used are:

  • Pasta Necks (or Spaghetti clams) -  smaller than Little Necks, they are tender and easy to digest. Their delicate flavor goes well in light sauces, pasta or rice dishes. Since they are less than an inch and a half they may not be legally harvested in New Jersey.

  • Specials (or Middle Necks) - a size in between Little Necks and Top Necks.

Size classes for hard clams have been designated as follows to standardize commercial conventions:

    ...of course these sizes will vary depending upon which website you visit.




Pasta Necks

1 - 1 1/2 inches

Little Necks

1 1/2 - 2 inches

Middle Necks

2 to 2 1/2 inches

Top Necks

2 1/2 to 3 inches


3-4 inches


4-6 inches


Fun Fact - From the 1860s through the 1890s, small hard clams from Little Neck Bay in Long Island, New York were served in the best restaurants of New York City.  Eventually, the term "Littleneck" or "littleneck clam" came to be used as a size category for all hard clams, regardless of origin.  <click here>

Fun Fact - The term "Cherrystone Clam" comes from Cherrystone Creek, Virginia <click here>