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Shellfish Identification

Saltwater Marine Fishing Regulations New Hampshire Saltwater Fishing

New Hampshire is fortunate to have a rich variety of molluscan shellfish.

Some of the most frequently seen are easy to identify by their shell shape and color.

New Hampshire has oysters, clams and mussels available for recreational harvest. License may be required.

  • Mollusks (clams, oysters, mussels, etc.) may only be taken from approved areas. (See map on Shellfish Areas).
  • Motor vehicles are prohibited on clam flats (any tidal area, exposed at low tide, that is capable of growing clams).
  • Call 1-800-43-CLAMS for current open/closed status of N.H. shellfish areas. Temporary closures during open seasons may occur due to high bacteria levels, red tide or other issues.
  • Sale prohibited. Softshell clams and oysters of N.H. origin, and quahogs, littlenecks and cherrystones (Mercenaria mercenaria) less than 1 inch in shell thickness cannot be sold.

Note: Shellfish Closures May Change

Most of New Hampshire’s coastal waters (up to 3 miles offshore) are open to shellfish harvest, with the exception of surf clams and mahogany quahogs, which can be harvested for consumption from the shoreline to 500 feet seaward of the low tide line. In addition, several small areas along the coast are closed due to pollution concerns. These areas include the outlets of Parsons Creek and Eel Pond in Rye, an unnamed creek near Bass Beach in Rye, and Chapel Brook. All waters within 750 feet of each outlet are closed to shellfish harvest. Additionally, all waters within 1,500 feet of Little River (near North Hampton State Beach), and waters 1,500 feet north of Great Boars Head in Hampton, are closed to shellfish harvest. Also closed are areas around the wastewater treatment plant outfalls at Wallis Sands State Park, the Town of Seabrook, and Star Island (Isles of Shoals).

Other areas may close temporarily at any time. For up-to-date information, call Fish and Game’s Clam Flat Hotline at 1-800-43-CLAMS, check fishnh.com/marine and consult the information and maps at xml2.des.state.nh.us/CoastalAtlas/Atlas.html.

Red Tide

Red tide is caused by the accumulation of toxins from one-celled organisms. The toxins may be stored in the bodies of filter-feeding bivalves, such as clams, mussels and oysters, which ingest the organisms. Humans who eat the shellfish may become afflicted with paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), which can cause death through respiratory paralysis. Mussel samples are tested weekly from April to October. If PSP toxins exceed state standards for consumption, shellfish harvesting areas are closed and public notice given via news media and the Fish and Game website. Contact Fish and Game Marine Fisheries Division at (603) 868-1095 or the Department of Environmental Services at (603) 559-1509, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., for updated information. Even when red tide closures are not in effect, some areas may be closed to the taking of shellfish (see Shellfish Closures May Change).

Shellfish illustrations: ©Hans Hillewaert CC 2.5: Mahogany Quahog, Razor clam;
©Invertzoo GNU Free Documentation License: Surf Clam; ©Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Waved Whelk; ©NHFG/Victor Young: Ribbed Mussel; ©Pallbo: Blue Mussel; ©Pipa100 | Dreamstime.com: European Oyster

Aquaculture in Little Bay

Aquaculture of marine bivalves (mainly oysters) is a relatively new enterprise in New Hampshire. Currently, this activity is being pursued at a number of aquaculture operations in Upper and Lower Little Bay. Each area, ranging from 1 to 4.5 acres, is identified by yellow corner buoys. Recreational boaters and fishermen should use care in traversing these areas. Remember, it is unlawful to disturb, molest, tend, or possess any aquaculture gear or marine species raised in a licensed marine aquaculture operation without the written permission of the licensee.