This guy is happy as a clam

Meet Joe Leland, the Lowcountry’s ‘Clam Man’

Joe “The Clam Man” Leland, right, and his partner Curtis have worked together since 1979. Here they are inspecting and counting clams on their boat in Port Royal Sound before they bag them and get them ready to sell to local businesses.Going back nearly to the dawn of man, there’s been a mystique to the sea. When it gets in your blood, any old salt will tell you that it never leaves.

For Joe Leland, that salt had been in his blood for generations, but it wasn’t until after retiring that he answered its call.

Leland, who goes by the afectionate nickname “The Clam Man,” traces his roots back to McClellanville, well known for its seafood.

“My family name goes back there. My daddy grew up in McClellanville,” Leland said. “My family’s background is in the seafood business.”

Leland continues that tradition as one of the Lowcountry’s most noted clam farmers.

While our region may have gained its fame from the abundant oysters and shrimp, not many realize that clams fnd a perfect home in our waters, too.

“Sometimes I have oysters growing on top of my clams that I have to get out of the way,” Leland said, chuckling. “They’re a blessing and a curse.”

Leland, who leases space in Port Royal Sound for his clam farm, has found a niche in producing large, healthy bivalves from the brackish water of the sound. He purchases juvenile clams on a regular basis and plants them in a tidal area of the sound by the season, sometimes up to a million at a time.

“You have some sweet spots and some disastrous spots,” said Leland. “You’ll have sand shifts that smother the clams, but the secret is to get in tune with what you are doing.”

After pulling up a clam net from the bottom of the ocean, Leland dumps about 500 clams at a time into a bucket for a saltwater rinse before counting and bagging them.Despite tracing his family roots to the seafood industry, Leland didn’t always work the waters. He retired from Coburg Dairy in 1996 after a successful career there, and went into the clam industry after being encouraged by a friend from his church.

“I didn’t know anything about it at frst,” Leland said.

Regardless of his inexperience, he worked hard and gained his immense knowledge on the job, taking over the operation when his partner in the clam farm moved on to other ventures.

Leland now sells his clams to Sea Eagle Market on Boundary Street in Beaufort, which in turn distributes the tasty mollusks from Hilton Head to Myrtle Beach.

“ We sell Joe’s clams to both Piggly Wigglys on Hilton Head, as well as the Blufton Oyster Factory during the occasional of-season,” said Sea Eagle Market owner Craig Reaves. “ We also supply clams to quite a few restaurants in Beaufort.”

Reaves is clearly a fan of Leland’s unique Lowcountry clams, and not just because of how quickly they sell at market.

“It’s just a very good, very sweet clam,” he said. “Being raised in Port Royal Sound, you get a lot of water fowing through there. It’s just quality.”

As long as he’s able, Leland plans to continue producing some of the area’s fnest clams.

“Getting out there in the mud, you’ve got to be able to work,” said Leland.

To the thousands of Lowcountry gourmands who taste this unique harvest, it’s defnitely worth the efort.