Clam rancher partners with nature

CAPE GEORGE — “Go, Geoducks, go, through the mud and the sand, let’s go!”

Peter Downey admits he does not know all the words to the fight song of The Evergreen State College, his alma mater. But he hopes his little charges heed the underlying message.

“You hope they don’t all die, don’t get eaten, or a storm doesn’t tear up their beds,” Downey says.

Downey, a former state employee, is a graduate of Evergreen, where the mascot is the geoduck, a large-necked clam favored by sushi fans.

Now living in Cape George, he is pouring time and money into a new enterprise — growing baby geoducks on the sandy floors of Discovery Bay — and hoping that in five years, his investment pays off.

Like all farming, it’s a gamble.

Sensitive to environment

“Geoducks are very particular,” he says.

“They like high salinity. Fresh water kills them. Heat kills them. UV rays kill them.

“If you look at them cross-eyed, they will die.”

To determine the feasibility of growing geoducks in the bay, Downey conducted test “plants,” or seedings, last year.

Achieving a 70 percent survival rate, he leased three acres of tidelands near his Cape George home and this June, bought 250,000 geoduck seeds at 20 cents each.

Then he hired local teenagers to help him tuck the finger-tip-sized clams into their tidal nurseries.

“It’s a labor intensive operation,” he says.

“You take a tube and push it into the sand, then put three or four little baby geoducks inside, cover them with a net and put a rubber band around the top.

“Then you do that 20,000 times per acre.”

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