OLYMPIA — Despite a Chinese ban on shellfish from the U.S. West Coast, the Washington geoduck industry is shipping off its product to Asia, with the top two destinations being Hong Kong and Vietnam.
The Washington State Department of Health issued a total of 757 certificates in January -- more than double the 373 certificates issued in January 2013, when shipments were still going into China, The Kitsap Sun reported Saturday.
These certificates are required to identify the shellfish-growing area and ensure that a given shipment of seafood is safe to eat.
Of the 757 certificates issued in January, 409 designated shipments into Hong Kong, while 243 designated shipments into Vietnam. Other shipments were to Malaysia, 38; Thailand, 24; Indonesia, 8; and a number of countries with smaller shipments. Shipments were closed off to China in January, so no certificates were issued for that country.
Geoducks are highly prized large burrowing clams that can fetch up to $50 a pound in Asian markets. The U.S. exported $68 million worth of geoduck clams in 2012, mostly from Washington state. Meanwhile, tribal and state officials report most of their geoduck divers expect to meet annual quotas.
With a cutoff of direct imports into China, most of the Suquamish Tribe's geoducks are now going into Hong Kong, which does not have an import ban. Hong Kong has always been a market for geoducks, but now buyers are taking far more of the product. Where they go after that is uncertain, said Robin Jordan, a marketing expert with Port Madison Enterprises, which is owned by the Suquamish Tribe.
The Suquamish Tribe's quota for the current harvest year, which runs from April 2013 through March 2014, is 484,000 pounds, said Tony Forsman of Port Madison Enterprises. That is expected to produce revenues between $6 million and $8 million while providing jobs for 25 divers plus associated deck hands, he said.
Divers harvest the giant clams in deep water where they may have grown for decades. To meet the demand for live clams, the shellfish are packed on ice and shipped by air to Asian markets.
Paul McCollum, natural resources director for the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, confirmed that the tribe's divers, who are independent geoduck sellers, have not slowed down their harvests nor suffered price declines as a result of the Chinese ban. Other tribes have reported similar experiences.
"We have been lucky with the geoduck fishery, finding markets in Hong Kong and other areas," McCollum said. "But this (import ban) is a worry, because China is such a huge market. I think everybody is interested in getting that market back soon."