Recent (2001–2002) surveys of hard clam Mercenaria mercenaria density and distribution, using patent tongs in a stratified random design (n = 7,358 stations) in lower Chesapeake Bay are not consistent with historic descriptions of clam habitats and densities. The highest average densities observed, up to 3.1 clams m−2, were in the lower James River. The highest modern average density observed is half that of clam densities commonly observed in these same habitats during the early 1970s. Current distribution is significantly affected by water depth and substrate composition. Hard clam density in Chesapeake Bay is positively associated with increasing sediment grain size; 78% of all clams collected were found in shell or sand habitats. However, 44% of sand habitats and 54% of shell habitats were unoccupied suggesting that even habitat types that typically support higher clam densities may currently be underused.
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Vol. 24 • No. 2