Razorfish (also known as razorshell, razor clam, common razor and pod razor) are a range of bivalve mollusc species common around the British coastline. They are an edible species of shelfish which gets their common name from their resemblance to an old fashioned cut throat razor.
Description and Distribution
There are several species (and sub species) of razorfish found across the UK, with the scientific names Ensis ensis, Ensis arcuatis and Ensis siliqua being applied to different species. All of these species are similar looking and to keep things simple this article considers them all as a single species. Razorfish are found all around the UK and Ireland with their range extending to the rest of Europe with razorfish being found from Scandinavian waters to the Mediterranean. Razorfish have a rectangular shell which is split into two halves. It is somewhat brittle and fragile and is open at either end. The flesh of the razorfish inside is usually a white to pale orange in colour, while the shell itself can be a light brown to olive green. Razorfish can be over 20cm in length, but most are 10 to 15cm.
Habitat and Life Cycle
Razorfish live by burrowing into the sand with their foot. Once the tide comes in and they are covered by sea water they filter feed by straining organic matter and microscopic detritus through their bodies. When the tide goes back out them go back into their burrows and hide until the tide comes back in again. Although razorfish are blind they can sense movements and pressure changes in the sand around themselves and can disappear back into their burrows in a matter of seconds if they are threatened. As they are a burrowing shellfish they can only live in densely packed and firm sand that allows them to dig. In areas where this sand is present razorfish can be abundant and the shellfish beds made up of this species can be vast.
Razorfish grow in the summer when the weather is hot and there is a plentiful supply of food. In winter they continue to feed but do not grow very much. They can increase in size by a few centimetres every year until they reach their maximum size of around 20cm. Razorfish are thought to be able to live for up to twenty years. Spawning takes place in the summer when the male razorfish release sperm which is collected in the females gills. The eggs are then fertilised and released into the sea. Once hatched the immature razorfish are free swimming planktonic larva. Eventually when they grow larger they settle down on a sandy seabed and transform into shellfish. Razorfish are a popular source of food around Europe and Asia, where they are seen as a delicacy.
Gathering and Buying Razorfish
Razorfish can be gathered from any beach were they are present. The easiest way is to wander along the beach after a storm where razorfish will have been throw out of their burrows and can simply be collected by hand. However, a more pro-active way of collecting razorfish is to go down to the beach armed with a container of supermarket bought salt. The best time to go is on a very low spring tide as the maximum amount of razorfish bed will be uncovered. Walk carefully and slowly (as razorfish will burrow deeper if they feel threatened by the vibrations and pressure changes of heavy footsteps) and look for the keyhole shaped home of the razorfish. Once this has been found pour a generous amount of salt down the hole. If nothing happens pour some water down to flush the salt further down the hole. Once the salt comes into contact with the razorfish it will pop out of its home and can be held gently but firmly and pulled out of the sand. Be careful as grabbing the razorfish too roughly will see it break up and sink back into the hole. The reason why razofish come out of their home is unknown. Some believe it is because the salt tricks them into thinking it is high tide and time to come out and feed, whereas another theory is that razorfish cannot handle that much salt on their body and come out of their home to try and escape. Either way, razorfish can be successfully gathered in this manner. This YouTube video shows the method in action.
As razorfish are edible some specialist fishmongers may sell them fresh. They are also commonly available from fishing tackle shops and mail order bait companies in frozen form. Anglers collecting their own fresh razorfish can also freeze them for future use.
Storing Razorfish Baits
Hand gathered razorfish should be put in a bucket of seawater which is covered with a damp cloth. If stored in a shed, garage or outhouse they will keep for several days as long as the weather is cool. An alternative way of keeping a few razorfish is to keep them in a container of seawater in the fridge. Stored in this way they should last for a few days longer than keeping them in a garage or shed. Fresh razorfish can be frozen for future use. Dry them of excess water with kitchen roll and then place them into the freezer for a few hours until they are completely frozen. They can then be placed into separate plastic bags of six or seven and taken as needed for fishing sessions.
Preparation and Bait Presentation
To prepare razorfish the shell should be split along its length and the fleshy razorfish itself can then be easily removed. It should be threaded onto the hook and the hookpoint should pierce the foot of the razorfish at least once as this is the firmest part of the bait. The razorfish should then be pushed up the hook snood with a little of the razorfish left trailing to provide some added attraction to fish. For very short range casting for flatfish it may be possible to get away without securing the razorfish to the hook with bait elastic, but for medium to long range casting it is necessary to use bait elastic or cotton to ensure that the razorfish does not come off the hook in the air or on impact with the water. Razorfish can be used in cocktail baits with razorfish and lugworm a favourite for winter cod, while smaller fish such as dab, flounder and whiting can be caught with razorfish that have been cut in half. A razorfish section, tipped with a small wriggling ragworm is a top flatfish bait, especially for flounder. A float fished razorfish bait presented along a rock edge or habour wall can also account for good wrasse.