Even in the Ocean State, not everyone knows their clams.
You have quahogs, littlenecks, cherrystones and chowders, all names for the same species of bivalve. And head up or down the coast to another state and they attach different names to the same sizes, confusing even the dedicated seafood lover.
Out of all of the clams, the top-neck clam may be the most misunderstood.
It’s not at the top of the size chart and it doesn’t have a visible neck. It’s firmly in the modest middle of the clam spectrum and most people have never heard of it.
Because smaller clams are considered better, a good top-neck will draw less than a littleneck on the dock even though it could be twice as large.
But local shellfishermen and some chefs say the top-neck’s time has come for the sake of both consumers and the seafood industry.
With help from a $13,648 state grant, the Rhode Island Shellfishermen’s Association and hospitality company Newport Harbor Corp. are launching a top-neck clam promotional campaign with restaurant specials and a magazine spread.
“Top-necks are undervalued for what they are worth,” said Michael McGiveney, president of the Rhode Island Shellfishermen’s Association. “What is wonderful about them is when you split them in half you can cut the meat in half and have a good portion on each side. You’re getting two clams casino for the price of one.”
Elevating the profile of the top-neck clam is one example of a larger state effort to boost the Rhode Island seafood economy by stimulating demand for local marine products.
Last month, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management awarded six of 17 grants under the Local Agriculture and Seafood Act to advance local seafood sales.
Building off the success of local agriculture and the growth of farmers markets, the $70,000 in seafood grants are designed to help fishermen keep a larger share of the proceeds in-state instead of sharing it with distributors and middlemen.