China lifts geoduck ban, to Peninsula suppliers’ relief

Peninsula Daily News
and The Associated Press

China has lifted a five-month ban on live shellfish from U.S. West Coast waters, a move greeted with relief by North Olympic Peninsula producers.

The Chinese government announced the ban’s end in a letter Friday, officials said.

The ban had particularly affected the Alaska and Washington shellfish industry, including such businesses as Taylor Shellfish Farms, based in Shelton, and members of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, based in Blyn, and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, west of Port Angeles.

“Obviously, we’re thrilled to finally get a favorable response from China,” said Bill Dewey, a spokesman for Taylor Shellfish Farms, which has a geoduck seed hatchery on Dabob Bay in East Jefferson County.

“It’s gone on longer than we had hoped,” Dewey added.

Doug Morrill, the Lower Elwha tribe’s natural resources director, agreed.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said

“It did not totally shut down our geoduck fishery, but it severely impacted it.”

Ban in December

China imposed the ban in December on the import 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, known as PSP, in geoducks harvested in Alaska.

High levels of inorganic arsenic and PSP have not been found in other areas of the larger region.

PSP is a biotoxin produced by algae that shellfish eat. In humans in high levels, it can lead to severe illness and even death.

Before the ban, China typically accounted for about 90 percent of geoduck exports from Washington state.

And fisheries in the state harvest and farm 5.5 million to 7 million pounds of geoduck annually, according to Taylor Shellfish, one of the state’s largest geoduck providers.

U.S. officials, including officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, had traveled to China in March to discuss lifting the ban.

Inorganic arsenic

They highlighted new methods for sampling, surveillance and monitoring of inorganic arsenic.

The Chinese said they will send a team of food-safety officials to the United States to monitor shellfish testing.

Once the new tests are ready, exports can resume, according to Dewey, who added that company officials have worked with the state Department of Health to develop the tests.

“I like to think now that we’ve had the green light from China . . . we will be able to finalize plans in the next couple of weeks,” he said.

Morrill hopes it’s sooner than that.

The tribe’s 18 harvest boats have kept working during the ban but have brought in less money than usual as buyers have found new markets in Vietnam and elsewhere.

The tribe harvests about 200,000 pounds of geoduck annually, he said.

China’s ban didn’t change the amount harvested, but it lowered the price.

“This time of year, with China open, we expect to get $13 to $15 a pound,” he said.

Instead, the price has hovered at $10 to $11 per pound.

Ralph Riccio, shellfish biologist for the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, could not be reached for comment Friday.

He said after China imposed the ban that it hurt the tribe’s geoduck fishery along the Hood Canal, Protection Island and central Puget Sound.

Geoducks are large, burrowing clams that are highly prized and 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.

“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,” U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said in a statement.

Taylor Shellfish had been shipping between 40,000 and 50,000 pounds of geoduck and up to 10,000 dozen oysters monthly to China when the ban took effect, Dewey said.

Layoffs

“All of that stopped immediately. We kept people working as best we could through the holidays, but as the ban continued into January, we ended up laying people off,” he said.

“At the height of it, we had close to 30 people laid off. Since then, we’ve gradually been able to get people back to work.”

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

“We’ve worked to further diversify our markets,” Dewey said.

“But we’re definitely excited to have China back online. They’re a very important trading partner for us.”

________

The Seattle Times contributed to this report.

Last modified: May 24. 2014 5:22PM
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