Sen. Murkowski questions China's shellfish policy

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KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked last week whether the Chinese ban on shellfish from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest might be about more than safety.

Murkowski said it's important the federal government follow through on the issue, noting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is sending a delegation to China in the coming weeks to discuss the ban and shellfish harvesting in the United States.

China banned the import of oysters, clams, mussels and scallops from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest in December. The Chinese government said it discovered paralytic shellfish poisoning in geoducks harvested in the Middle Gravina Island area of southeast Alaska and high levels of arsenic in geoducks from Puget Sound.

This month, federal officials requested the ban be limited to two harvest areas — one in southeast Alaska and the other outside of Seattle.

The Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association received word this week that the ban wouldn't be narrowed to specific areas, board President Jeremy Leighton said.

Because China is the largest consumer of geoduck, eating 90 percent of the world's supply, divers have been stuck on shore for seven weeks, Leighton said.

Technically, the divers can fish for geoduck. But the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation requested activity be put on hold while the situation with China is resolved and Ketchikan divers have complied, Leighton said.

Meanwhile, Washington is harvesting geoducks for export to Hong Kong and Vietnam.