Imagine what you could accomplish with an average life span of 140 years...
Ok, now imagine living all 140 years in the same exact spot, with no change of scenery.
Welcome to the life of the laterally-challenged Geoduck – an almost grotesque looking (albeit delicious) bi-valve occupying the substrate under Puget Sound (if left undisturbed, that is).
Although these critters have a low natural mortality rate, a good diver can poach $1,000 worth of geoducks in an hour, if he has the inclination. Retail markets in China are offering the "King of All Clams" for $100 per pound, and the demand keeps growing. Until private sector aquaculture catches up with production, wild geoduck are the most viable source. And from our perspective, Washington State’s Puget Sound supply could be in jeopardy if we don’t ensure proper fishery protection. Unfortunately, this unique animal is under pressure from illegal harvest, and Fish and Wildlife Police Officers are stepping up the oversight in an industry that’s as complex as a geoduck's appearance.
While there are tight controls associated with regulating the take of this species, historical and recent evidence of thefts have highlighted the inadequacy of our few monitoring resources – Puget Sound is a lot of territory to cover! So another way to monitor the fishery is through patrolling fishing-buying and processing plants.
The most common strategy is to launder or mix illegal geoduck in with the legally harvested geoduck – one looks just like the other. But in the last few weeks, WDFW Marine Officers and Detectives served two search warrants and seized records at four commercial fish dealing and processing companies suspected of failing to properly report commercial harvests. Officers will spend months pouring through evidence to determine just how much under-reporting occurred. Over $9,000 worth of geoduck was seized at one facility as it was unwittingly delivered into the waiting hands of investigators.
So what’s the big deal?
It’s pretty simple really: without any idea of how much geoduck is being taken or where it comes from, overharvest can occur quickly. And given the slow reproductive and growth rates for geoduck, an area takes decades to reach pre-harvest levels. You can imagine the effect on future opportunities for legitimate harvesters if geoduck take is not managed.
Please call us and share information if you see or hear of any activity consistent with illegal geoduck harvest. For instance, geoduck diving is illegal at night, which is when some of the poaching occurs. Commercial harvest in intertidal areas is also prohibited. So if you see a boat anchored somewhere along the shoreline of Puget Sound and hear a compressor running, give us a call -- because someone is down there stealing your resource by blasting it out of the ground with an air-hose!
By the way, if you want to compete with Ivar's for some awesome clam chowder, give geoduck digging a try! You can find them on a number of public beaches during extremely low tides. You're allowed three per day, but be prepared to dig at least part way to China – they live deep.
Refer to page 133 of the sportfishing pamphlet for more information about geoduck digging!