September 6, 2015 by John Crapper
New geoduck farming rules are rolling out across Puget Sound, prompting a renaissance in the clam harvest and a growing movement to stop it… It comes after several years of stagnation, as state officials worked on better regulation. Now, counties across Puget Sound are adopting the new geoduck rules. That’s prompted renewed interest, along with big demand in Asia. The Department of Ecology counts 28 new geoduck farm permits since 2012.
But geoduck farming is controversial creating conflicts with shoreline property owners and nongovernmental organizations.
In southern Puget Sound, the effect of geoduck farming on large mobile animals is ambiguous. A 2004 draft biological assessment, commissioned by three of the largest commercial shellfish companies in the Puget Sound region, identified no long-term effects of geoduck farming on threatened or endangered species.
“It’s something we need to be aware of,” said Sandy Newell. Newell and her neighbors are fighting the proposed Detienne/Chelsea subtidal geoduck farm in Wauna on Hederson Bay. They point to shellfish aquaculture debris that continues to wash ashore. They’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars to stop the farm from getting a permit. So far, Newell is winning the fight. The Shoreline Hearings Board found the farm could have negative effects on herring and eel grass.
The geoduck is native to the west coast of North America. The shell of the clam ranges from 15 centimetres (5.9 in) to over 20 centimetres (7.9 in) in length, but the extremely long siphons make the clam itself much longer than this: the “neck” or siphons alone can be 1 metre (3.3 ft) in length. The geoduck is the largest burrowing clam in the world, and one of the longest-lived animals of any type.
The geoduck is native to the west coast of Canada and the northwest coast of the United States.
The large, meaty siphon is prized for its savory flavor and crunchy texture. Geoduck is regarded by some as an aphrodisiac because of its phallic shape.A team of American and Italian researchers analyzed bivalves and found they were rich in amino acids that trigger increased levels of sex hormones. Their high zinc content aids the production of testosterone. It is very popular in China, where it is considered a delicacy, mostly eaten cooked in a fondue-style Chinese hot pot. In Korean cuisine, geoducks are eaten raw with spicy chili sauce, sautéed, or in soups and stews. In Japan, geoduck is prepared as raw sashimi, dipped in soy sauce and wasabi.
The world’s first geoduck fishery was created in 1970, but demand for the half-forgotten clam was low due to its texture. As of 2011, these clams sell in China for over $150/lb (US$330/kg). The geoduck’s high market value has created an $80-million US industry, with harvesting occurring in the states of Alaska, Washington, and Oregon and the Canadian province of British Columbia. It is one of the most closely regulated fisheries in both countries.