Butter Clam        Saxidomus gigantea

Also called the Washington clam, it is highly favored ingredient in clam chowder.  It is a large clam growing to 4 to 6 inches.  Unlike other large common intertidal clams, such as the Geoduck or Gaper clams, it can withdraw its siphon completely within its shell.  In addition the color of the thick shell ranges from a chalky white to gray (although in areas with lots of mud the shell may be stained black) and sports concentric lines originating from the peak of the shell or hinge.  The shape of the shell is oval.

The Butter clam is found up to 14 inches deep in sheltered sand or gravel beaches from the mid to low intertidal zone and deeper.  It occurs up and down the Pacific coast from the Aleutian Islands to central California.  It can live as long as 20 years.  Like other intertidal clams they are fed upon by Moon snails, sea stars and gulls.

Commercial harvest of Butter clams peaked at over 500,000 lbs in the early 1970’s, but diminished due to competition with other clam species and outlawing of mechanical harvesting.  However it is still a popular sport clam. 

Be sure and check with the local health department prior to digging to see if your chosen beach is closed due to shellfish poisoning or pollution.  Remember shellfish toxin can concentrate in the tip of the siphon so it should be removed before cooking.  Also check current state regulations concerning the digging and possession of shellfish.