MALDON is known for its sea salt and Mersea its oysters. Could Leigh make a new name for itself in posh restaurants with the discovery of prized clams in the Thames Estuary?

Leigh fisherman Paul Gilson has hailed the discovery of rare razor clams and manila clams as “biblical” and restaurant bosses have already been blown away by their taste and potential.

Manila clams are used in dishes such as paella and pasta, while Mr Gilson says razor clams taste like “a cross between welks and oysters”.

A “huge” bed of razor clams is said to measure four miles long and half a mile wide.

Mr Gilson, who is also Leigh Town Councillor, said: “It’s a lifeline for Leigh. The volume of clams we’ve got in the estuary is phenomenal.

“Restaurants have sampled the clams and the feedback has been fantastic. They’ve already asked ‘when can we get more?’ We’ve got something that will sell all over the world.

“James Donelly from Ugos Italian on Leigh Broadway West tried them and was beside himself. They’ve also sampled them at Food by John Lawson.

“That’s two local businesses that would benefit from these clams, with a lot more to come.”

Both the manila and razor clams are invasive species believed to have come from North America. However, Mr Gilson has warned the industry must avoid “overfishing” to ensure its sustainability.

He added: “We’ve got to get this right. The good news is we don’t know of any natural predators, so we won’t be upsetting nature.”

Mr Gilson plans to use equipment approved by the Marine Stewardship Council to harvest the clams.

He said: “If we mirror their criteria, we can have something that is sustainable in the long term and will profit the industry.

“I want my industry to succeed. That’s why we’re aiming to bring more industry expertise to the table to manage how we harvest these clams. It may be the only hope we’ve got.

“It really is exciting, but we’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do.”

On Wednesday, Anna Firth urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to visit Leigh to see the clams and Mr Sunak praised the “incredible discovery”.