Catching up with Charleston waterman Dave Belanger.
His given name is Dave Belanger, but to folks in the Lowcountry and beyond, he’s fondly known as “Clammer Dave” because of his work and passion.
As the founder of Sustainable Gourmet — an aquaculture farm about 15 miles outside Charleston — Belanger and his crew spend long days on a 22-foot Carolina skiff, sustainably harvesting clams and oysters.
He’s passionate about his work but is what one might call an accidental waterman.
“Years ago, I was doing some consulting for a shrimp farm that had gone into bankruptcy, and I traveled to South Carolina,” explains the Virginia native. “It seemed like a nice area, so I wound up moving here.” He chuckles. “That was all the thought I put into it.”
Some two decades later, Belanger plies his trade in the waters near Capers Island State Heritage Preserve, one of the last undeveloped barrier islands in the Lowcountry.
His clams and oysters (known as Caper’s Blades) are raised above the sea bottom so that the surface waters can naturally rid the shellfish of mud and grit while retaining that salty sea flavor.
Clammer Dave uses a traditional method called “culling in place,” which means that only market-sized oysters are harvested. He says the practice helps to ensure high-quality mollusks, while leaving a healthy oyster reef in place. “We want to minimize environmental impact,” he says.
Back in 2009, Belanger launched a Community Supported Aquaculture (or CSA), and later converted an old building in McClellanville, South Carolina, into a seafood processing plant.
They ship the clams and oysters to restaurants, food festivals and renowned chefs (Mario Batali, among them) all across the country.
In Charleston, many award-winning restaurants regularly feature Clammer Dave’s products on their menus.
Frank McMahon, an award-winning chef who helms the acclaimed Hank’s Seafood Restaurant, has accompanied Clammer Dave on his expeditions and serves the fresh catch in his restaurant.
“He’s been out clamming with me a few times,” says Belanger. “I have hosted a lot of chefs over the years, and they really seem to enjoy it. It’s beautiful out here, and we have to protect this natural resource.”