Monday, September 9, 2013

Digging for Shellfish (Clams, mussels, oysters) Guide

Today is a day where I find myself with totally no mood to do just about anything except sharing my experience with my readers. And here it is, the holy grail of digging for shell fish is born!

Before I start, I want to let all readers know that this guide should be used as a reference only and should you have a better way, do go ahead yourselves! Please also do not use this guide as a safety guide and assume that whatever I have covered is sufficient. There can be many safety issues on a beach such as Saltwater Crocodiles to fatal Blue Ring Octopuses or even sinking into the mud and being devoured by it.

The purpose of this guide would serve to let those of us with no prior experience of digging for shellfish get a head start in what is a free and fun actvitity for the family - something which is pretty rare in Singapore these days!

The Purpose of Digging?
I have been facing this question many times when friends or relatives tell me... why Dig when a few kg of clams merely cost a few bucks? The art of digging is really simple when I use the old saying "Money does not fall from the sky" and parents can use this basis to teach their children about the tough work just to get a few kgs of clams. Digging for clams is backbreaking work - it involves getting all down and dirty in the mud, digging till you have cuts on your hands and so on. Simply said, it teaches us to work for food literally! Adding to urbanization these days, most kids do not have this "Kampong Spirit" or the explorer in them to be trying such fun, natural and healthy hobbies!
 
Personally brought my brother along for some fun in the sun!

Back breaking work!
Are the Shellfish Safe for Consumption?
Another popular question, people are often concerned about whether the Shellfish are safe for consumption since there are cases of red tide, shit pollution in Pasir Ris and so on. While, I myself have already eaten a few kgs of Clams dug at Kranji Dam Beach area, I would like to caution readers that pollution has gone a long way these days and we can never ensure that whatever we catch are "safe". The golden rule would be to avoid eating anything that originates from polluted areas (e.g NEA advised public not to fish, swim at Pasir Ris sometime back) and of course to eat everything in moderation.

Regarding one of the popular digging spots at Kranji, I have to say that the water is much cleaner these days and it is quite clear now (not so murky) compared to previous years. There are actually healthy populations of fish, corals and even Horshoe crabs there now. Furthermore, many supermarkets actually get their shellfish from sources such as Kranji Beach or other beaches (sometimes diggers may dig the shells and sell them to any retailers who would buy them).

Hope I've cleared the doubts about eating what you dig!

Digging Equipment
$2 buys from Daiso!

Thankfully Digging of Clams require no special digging equipment and you only need basic digging equipment such as mini shovels, spoons, ladles - anything that can dig up 10 - 50cm of sand/mud! Once you are good at digging for the clams, you can even use your bare hands!

Finding a Digging Spot
The next thing to do is finding a spot to dig! A potential spot would have a few tell tale signs like exposed mudflats at low tide and the best way is to actually see people digging at the spot! The most popular spot so far is Kranji Dam Beach which also has a toilet and carpark nearby!
 
Kranji Reservoir Beach - awesome digging grounds

Look at where that person is standing? He's digging there in submerged water! But that area will be also above water soon!

The way down to the beach

Turn left here to access the beach!
Also, you should make sure that the spot has clams by actually keeping quiet. Once you do, you can hear the clams and their "Squirting or hissing" noises as they expel water/mud out through their tubers! If you are quick enough you may even see the tubers stick out of the mud and squirt the water! That's a clear sign there are some clams below and usually, I would encourage to dig at such spots instead of digging blindly!

Many people often dig at the most exposed portions of the mud/sand banks and this has proved to be a good theory as these banks only expose during low tides certain times of the month. By digging at these spots, you get to the harder to get areas!

Safety First
Safety issues should always be your top priority. Rising tides can leave you stranded at your spot in no time and other issues such as Crocodiles, Horshoe Crabs and Coral should not be overlooked. In the case of Kranji dam, you must be wary if the tidal gates open! I do not want to list down or be a safety guru here, so everyone please make sure you take into consideration your needs (PCK rubber boots for beach wading, gloves for digging etc)

Be on the lookout for Horshoe Crabs!
 Making the Most of a Clam "School"
One very interesting concept which I learned is once you hit a good vein of clams, stick to it! It will be likely there around a few clams, there are many others in a "school" clustered around the same area. Don't dig one spot for 2 - 3 clams and then move a few meters away to another! The best way is to calmly dig while taking a sit on the mud while slowly moving around your digging area. Digging depth is not very deep only 10 - 50cm and you should be digging sideways after a certain depth and not digging deeper!

Turning Pro
Once you have gotten the feel of it, discard the shovel or digging tool and use your hands! This is the best way as you get maximum sensitivity and it is also less tiring! One can also differentiate between actual shells and rubbish! You also won't destroy your clams by using your digging tool! Beware though, you'll get cuts and nicks from broken shells so where a glove if you have to!

Getting rid of Sand

Here's a short video on the clam squirting!


Once you have your shells, many housewives often ask me, how do I get rid of sand. Many of them use salt added to freshwater from the tap and this is wrong as it KILLS the clams! The best way is to bring home saltwater from the sea and use that! Clams will then be alive and able to "expel" out the sand naturally. This should be done over a few water changes of at least 8 hours. Please also do not put your clams into pails as they will drown! Use a horizontal tray and semi submerge them slightly below the water level and you can see them trying to breathe by using their feelers/tubers! Remember to change water every 2 hours or when the water is dirty/used up. If you want, you can dilute the seawater with 30-40% freshwater and it should still be okay for them.

Soak them for a few hours with regular water changes
 
Their "feelers" will come up to breathe/expel

Soaking after 6 hours and few water changes. Note that it is getting cleaner.

Cooking!
Well, I should not be elaborate on this, ask your wife or mom! Here's some from mine!

Curry clams!

Clams with chinese wine!
 

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