Among the small, slick piles of fresh fish was what looked like a stack of Cuban cigars bound by a thick rubber band and standing on end in a bed of crushed ice. The stack loomed conspicuously over an assortment of brooding Irish bivalves including mussels, scallops and clean, white clams.

The stack was a tidy bundle of chilled razor clams, a recent addition to the fresh seafood available at Wrights of Howth, Ireland, where the day’s catch is off-loaded from trawlers only yards away from the front door of the shop.

Razor clams are on the cutting edge of the Irish mollusk market. Employee Samantha Farrelly said that though Wright has been in business selling fish for about a century, razor clams have been offered only the last three years.

In Ireland, razor clams are harvested by a dredge operated by a trawler with four to five crew. A razor clam harvesting license is required and harvesting is prohibited during the spawning season, May through June. The catch is measured in kilos and a kilo (2.2 lbs.) of razor clams is worth four to five Euros or around five dollars. A typical harvest is around four hundred kilos.

Though Howth is home port to an active fishery the harbor town is also a popular tourist destination. However, razor clams are not yet listed in menus of local restaurants. Only once did employee Robert Clancy sell fresh razor clams to tourists and that was to a small group of Italians who ate the clams raw and with wine. Clancy said that the Italians enjoyed their feast very much but that he himself was “very surprised” that razor clams had such taste appeal. Samantha Farrelly added that Chinese-Irish buy razor clams regularly. They steam them for a minute or so and serve the clams with ethnic Chinese sauces. Steamed razor clams “taste like calamari,” she said, a comparison used to describe any seafood with a taste that’s difficult to distinguish from, say, chicken.

It’s because of their popularity among Chinese-Irish that Wrights, in December, begins advertising fresh razor clams “big time,” said Robert, in the Chinese-Irish monthly newspaper The Shining Emerald Isle News. Razor clams have been exported to Hong Kong but the strongest market for them is Spain. Wrights also assembles baskets of assorted Irish foods and liquors for domestic mail-order and export. At the center of their larger ensembles is Wrights’ own wild salmon smoked with “oak chippings,” a product that won gold at the Great Taste awards run by the Guild of Fine Food Retailers in London. This part of Wrights’ business disguises a sad reality about the Irish waterfront fish markets: the Irish fishery is in decline, as are fisheries just about everywhere. But the variety of fresh fish for sale in Wrights’ coolers leads one to believe that the supply is adequate for now. Wrights is a small but resourceful and optimistic business and its reputation as fishmonger to Ireland and the world is preserved in the words on a sign above the shop window: “If It Swims, We Have It!”

A summer resident of Islesboro, Randy Purinton writes occasionally for Island Institute publications.