The yellow clam (Mesodesma mactroide) is a species that thrives in cold waters, and is present solely in the 22 km of beach that goes from the La Coronilla area to the Barra del Chuy resort in the Rocha department in the country’s southeast. This specie’s shell is actually white, with yellow sports due to the tiny algae that live on it.
The clam can only be harvested when the shell’s length is between five and eight cm. They are taken out of the water with a beach shovel and are then placed in large tanks for 48 hours, to rid them of sand. The clams are then sold live to local restaurants, transported in salt water. The recipes in which they are used are recognized internationally.
Until 1981 these clams were caught freely, but in 1982 a plan was introduced to encourage organization among the fishers and to establish rules. In 1994 a large portion of these clams began to die off along the coasts of Uruguay, due to several causes including the increased water temperature, the spread of parasites and an infestation of algae, which closed down the fishing activities for 16 years. In 2009 the mollusk was once again allowed to be caught, but new rules were introduced. In fact, only 39 permits were issued, giving priority to fishers with a long family history of fishing and who are residents of the area. Since then there has been an ongoing collaboration between the government and fishers aimed at developing ever more sustainable fishing practices.
The methods used are traditional and firmly linked to local families, who pass their fishing secrets from father to son. The total absence of harvesting these mollusks for 16 long years caused a distancing from this activity which only now is starting to be overcome. The sale of this product is also tied to a limited period of time, as it is concentrated in the summer, thanks to the arrival of tourists. A final factor that endangers the survival of the yellow clam is the competition from other, less valuable clams, and thus also less expensive, that come from Chile.