China reopens door to shellfish

Ban on West Coast mollusks lasted months

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SEATTLE — China has lifted a five-month ban on live shellfish from U.S. West Coast waters, officials said Friday.

The Beijing government announced the ban's end in a Friday letter, officials said. The ban had particularly affected the Washington and Alaska shellfish industry.

China imposed a ban in December on the importation of clams, oysters, mussels and scallops harvested from Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Northern California. China detected high levels of inorganic arsenic in geoducks from Puget Sound. It also found paralytic shellfish poisoning in geoducks harvested in Alaska. High levels of inorganic arsenic and paralytic shellfish poisoning have not been found in other areas of the larger region.

U.S. officials had traveled to China in March to discuss lifting the ban, including highlighting new methods for sampling, surveillance and monitoring of inorganic arsenic.

"China is a key export market for our region's shellfish, and this news means greater economic stability for the workers and families in our region. I look forward to working closely with federal, state, local, and tribal stakeholders to ensure that the new testing and monitoring requirements can be swiftly implemented and we can get back to shipping world-famous Washington shellfish to a major market," said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., in a statement.

The Chinese letter also said the country will send a team of food safety officials to the United States to monitor shellfish testing.

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.

During the ban, Washington shellfish-growers continued shipping their product to Asia, with the two main destinations being Hong Kong and Vietnam.