Creature Feature: Pacific Razor Clam

In California, the Pacific razor clam may be found from the California-Oregon border southward to Pismo Beach, but they are most abundant in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. They prefer flat or gently sloping sandy beaches with moderate to heavy surf. The best Pacific razor clam beaches are in northern California, including Clam Beach in Humboldt County and beaches near Crescent City.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Shells red to reddish brown, long, thin, fragile, and shiny
  • Heavy, yellowish, varnish-like coating
  • Foot without color

Life History & Other Notes

Pacific razor clams feed on plankton and bits of food suspended in the water. They spawn in May and June, when water temperatures reach 55°F. The young settle to the sand about eight weeks after hatching, and grow rapidly for the first three years of life.

Pacific razor clams are excellent burrowers that depend on their digging speed for protection from wave shock. A clam laid on the surface of the beach will completely bury itself within seven seconds. Clammers must dig quickly to capture these clams before they burrow to depths that are difficult to reach.

The Pacific razor clam is one of the tastiest food clams in California, and is diligently pursued by clammers. When disturbed by heavy footsteps, these clams withdraw their siphons, leaving a characteristic, slit-like opening in the sand. Keeping a sharp eye out for these openings will help clammers capture these quick-burrowing clams.

NOTE: The razor clam fishery has been reopened in California since August 10, 2021 (read the press release). The recreational season is open year-round except that areas in Clam Beach, Humboldt County, and beaches north and south of Battery Point, Del Norte County, are rotationally opened every other year. Additionally, the recreational fishery may be closed due to health concerns. See the CDFW health advisory page for details on any closures.

CDFW reminds clammers that the daily bag limit is 20 razor clams and the first 20 clams dug must be retained regardless of size or condition. During odd-numbered years, Clam Beach (also known as Little River Beach) in Humboldt County is only open between Moonstone Beach and north of the boundary line due west from the Clam Beach south parking lot trailhead (40° 59.67’ N. lat.).  In Del Norte County, the fishery in odd-numbered years is open north of Battery Point, Crescent City. Effective March 8, 2021, each person is required to keep a separate container for their clams and is not allowed to commingle their catch with another person when digging and transporting clams to shore.

Pacific Razor Clam Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Siliqua patula

Other Common Names: northern razor clam, razor clam

Range & Habitat: Pismo Beach northward, but mostly north of Mendocino County on flat or gently sloping sand beaches exposed to surf

Width: To 7 in.

Life Span: To 19 years

Diet: Feeds on suspended plankton and detritus

post based on information in the California Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book with additional information from the Marine Species Portal and CDFW biologists.