Summer nightmare: Clam strips are in short supply

Anthony Aguiar , right, of Waterford, a full-time cook at Captain Scott's Lobster Dock in New London, prepares clam strips during the lunch rush Saturday, July 15, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Anthony Aguiar , right, of Waterford, a full-time cook at Captain Scott's Lobster Dock in New London, prepares clam strips during the lunch rush Saturday, July 15, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)

It’s one of the longstanding New England debates: whole belly clams or clam strips?

Devotees of the latter, though, may have trouble finding them on the menus of local clam shacks this summer, as shack managers and owners are reporting a significant decline in the supply of clams that are used for strips.

The shortage, which some say has been caused by a drop in the amount of clams being harvested coupled with mechanical problems with some boats used by a major clam strip distributor in Rhode Island, comes at a time of “wicked high demand” for clam strips, according to Sam Hanley, the manager of Costello’s Clam Shack in Noank.

“So far, we’re surviving. We’re one of the lucky ones. We’re lucky to have an awesome distributor who we’ve worked with for many years,” she said. “It’s something we’re keeping an eye on every day. We have to make sure we have enough each day.”

She said that, so far, the shortage has not caused an increase in prices for clam strip rolls and dinners.

The shortage is expected to last all summer.

“Hopefully, it won’t get bad,” she said.

One southeastern Connecticut clam shack, whose owner did not want to be identified out of fear of upsetting his supplier, said there’s been a few days when he’s run out of fresh clams and had to take the strips off the menu. He said that has disappointed some customers who expect to be able to order fresh clam strips when they visit the shoreline.

Shack owners are reluctant to use frozen strips because they are not as tasty and customers notice, they said.

Susan Tierney, the manager of Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London, said the story she has heard is that the company that supplies many of the strips has three boats out of service and the harvest has decreased 50 percent this year.

So far, Captain Scott’s, which attracts a line of diners that sometimes stretches down the street, has been able to keep strips on its menu.

“But this is going to be a summer-long problem,” she said. “People get upset if you don’t have what they came for.”

Josh Benoit, of Sea Well Seafood’s wholesale division at the Stonington Town Dock, said this is the first time he remembers a shortage of clams used for strips. Last year, there was a shortage of clams used for bellies, resulting in price increases for whole belly rolls and dinners.

He said he has not heard any official reason for the decline.

“No one has an answer,” he said.

“Everyone is in the same boat. It’s not a question of paying more (to get what you need). It’s a question of no product,” he said.

Atlantic Capes Fisheries, which has a division in Bristol, R.I., that supplies strips for many restaurants in the region, did not respond to a request for comment about the shortage.

Benoit said the shortage began three to four weeks ago, just as the tourist season was heating up.

“If this was January, I wouldn’t even blink,” he said.

“I’ll feel bad for the retail customers. This is their bread and butter,” he said. “We’re just trying to get through this.”

j.wojtas@theday.com

Tom Eshenfelder, left, of New London, co-owner of Captain Scott's Lobster Dock in New London, and Anthony Aguiar, right, of Waterford, a full-time cook, prepare clam strips during the lunch rush Saturday, July 15, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Tom Eshenfelder, left, of New London, co-owner of Captain Scott's Lobster Dock in New London, and Anthony Aguiar, right, of Waterford, a full-time cook, prepare clam strips during the lunch rush Saturday, July 15, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)
A freshly prepared clam strip platter awaits pick up at Captain Scott's Lobster Dock in New London during the lunch rush Saturday, July 15, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)
A freshly prepared clam strip platter awaits pick up at Captain Scott's Lobster Dock in New London during the lunch rush Saturday, July 15, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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