By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Although the Chinese market normally consumes about 90 percent of the Klallam harvest, the tribe’s geoduck buyers have largely recovered by selling product in Asia — including China, tribal Fisheries Manager Doug Morrill said Monday.
Buyers are contravening the ban by going through Canada and Hong Kong to get restricted American geoducks to China, he said.
Morrill said the ban, imposed in December about a month before the busy Chinese New Year season, caused about $100,000 in revenue losses to the tribe’s fleet of 18 dive boats.
“The timing was absolutely the worst,” Morrill said.
Chinese officials imposed the ban in December in part after shipment of geoducks from Poverty Bay near Federal Way tested above that country’s standards for inorganic arsenic.
They also said there were high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, in a shipment traced to southeast Alaska.
The tribe’s geoduck management year ends March 31.
“I think we are sitting pretty good,” Morrill said.
“Some of the buyers are Canadian.
“They end up buying product, crossing the border and shipping to China that way,” he said.
“Other buyers have been able to get product to Hong Kong and over to China
“The buyers themselves are figuring out ways to get product to China.”
Other burgeoning markets include Vietnam and Korea, but China accounts for about 90 percent of the tribe’s market.
“Any of the Asian countries are expanding markets for geoduck,” Morrill said.
Jamestown S’Klallam officials did not return calls for comment on how the ban has affected the tribe.
The Lower Elwha and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes extract geoducks from the same management area.
The Lower Elwha have “usual and accustomed” areas where they harvest geoduck in Jefferson County along the Hood Canal, but it is part of a different management area within which the tribe’s quota has already been reached, Morrill said.
Both the Lower Elwha Klallam and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes take part in a fishery in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in which 391,613 pounds of clams are allotted during the management year participating tribes, with the same poundage allotted to the state of Washington, Morrill said.
With an average clam weighting about 2.5 pounds, according to Morrill, that’s more than 156,000 individual geoducks that can be harvested by participating tribes in the Strait of Juan de Fuca management area until March 31.
The calculation does not take into account larger geoducks, which Morrill has seen reach a weight of 6.5 pounds.
Divers harvest the 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.
The state Department of Health issued 757 shipping certificates in January — more than double the 373 certificates issued in January 2013, when shipments were still going to China.
The certificates must identify the shellfish-growing area and ensure that a given shipment of seafood is safe to eat.
Of the certificates issued, 409 designated shipments to Hong Kong, while 243 designated shipments to Vietnam.
Other smaller shipment amounts were to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
After shipments were closed off to China, no certificates were issued to that country.
Prices escalate by $2-$3 a pound during the Chinese New Year season.
Shipments of clams are harvested after they are ordered, Morrill said.
Paul McCollum, natural resources director for the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe, said the ban has not slowed down harvests or caused price declines.
“We have been lucky,” McCollum said.
“But this (import ban) is a worry, because China is such a huge market.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.