The Story

Disappearing Clams of the Great South Bay

When Andrew Parrucci was a teenager in the 1970s, he had a license to dig clams in the Great South Bay off the South Shore of Long Island. He spent entire summers on the water, dropping his rake and pulling up bushels of clams.

“We would go out at 5 a.m. and wouldn’t leave until 5 p.m.,” said the Bay Shore native, now 53. “It was a decent way to make a living. I was a high school kid making $400 a week.”

This was not uncommon for the South Shore area. An abundant clam population on the bay bed gave birth to a thriving blue-collar culture of clam diggers. There was money to be made in clams, and people from the shoreline communities in the towns of Babylon, Islip and Brookhaven made steady work of harvesting these shellfish.

“You could walk across the bay on clam boats,” Parrucci said. “You raked them out easily. In small areas, there would be large amounts of clams.”

The Great South Bay is a shallow bay on the South Shore of Long Island. It stretches 25 miles from the border of Nassau and Suffolk Counties to the Shirley peninsula, separated from the Atlantic Ocean by Fire Island. Two major breaches in Fire Island, the old inlet breach and the Fire Island inlet, exchange ocean water into the bay, helping maintain healthy ecology.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the bay was famous for producing Blue Point oysters. For reasons similar to those affecting clams today, the oysters disappeared and attempts to restore a healthy environment could not salvage them. But, where oysters fell short, clams flourished. Through the 1950s and 1970s, the numbers of clams rose exponentially, dominating the bay bed.