State officials shutting down geoduck tract to harvesting

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — State officials Friday shut down commercial geoduck clam harvesting on 135 acres of state-owned aquatic land while they investigate toxicity concerns that prompted China to ban West Coast shellfish.

In early December, the state learned that China had banned the import of clams, oysters, mussels and scallops from much of the North American West Coast, saying it had detected paralytic shellfish poison and arsenic in the giant clams.

State officials learned this week that Chinese authorities detected arsenic in a shipment of geoduck clams from Washington, The Seattle Times reported.

The state Health Department traced that shipment back to clams harvested in October by the Puyallup Tribe in Poverty Bay, near Federal Way, on the 135-acre parcel the state calls the Redondo Tract.

State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark commended the Puyallup tribe’s “swift action” in suspending its usual harvesting on the parcel.

Together with the state Department of Natural Resources’ action, “this means that no geoducks from the area at issue can enter the stream of commerce, domestically or internationally,” Goldmark said Friday in a statement.

Natural Resources manages more than 2.6 million acres of state-owned aquatic lands and sells the right to harvest geoduck.

The agency “is working with sister agencies, including the state Department of Health and [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], as well as tribal and industry partners, to investigate China’s concerns,” Goldmark said.

“We know this has been a hardship on our state’s shellfish industry, and we will work diligently to find resolution as quickly as possible.”

Health Department spokesman Tim Church told The Times that “there are no federal safety standards at all for arsenic in shellfish because it is not something that is typically an issue.”

He said past tests have never found arsenic levels that would be a concern.

“We are considering doing some more testing,” he said. “We are concerned about this situation and want to get it resolved as soon as possible.”

Last week, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich asked China’s ambassador to the U.S. for help in lifting the ban.

Begich urged the Chinese government to work with Alaska, federal seafood inspectors and the Food and Drug Administration to address questions over the conflicting results and to clear the way for trade to resume.

Last modified: December 21. 2013 5:17PM
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