The geoduck is native to the west coast of North America, primarily occurring in Washington State and British Columbia. The shell of the clam ranges from 15 centimetres (5.9 in) to over 20 centimetres (7.9 in) in length, but the extremely long siphons make the clam itself very much longer than this: the "neck" or siphons alone can be 1 metre (3.3 ft) in length. This is one of the largest clams in the world and one of the longest-lived animals in the world. As adults they have very few predators other than humans.
These clams were not fished commercially until the 1970s, but in recent decades a huge demand from Asian markets has developed, and the clams are now farmed as well as being harvested in the wild. The clams currently sell for huge sums of money, which has made poaching a problem. Farming techniques are under scrutiny for their possible negative environmental impact.
The unusual name of this clam ( // "gooey duck") is derived from a Lushootseed (Nisqually) word gʷídəq meaning "dig deep", and the odd spelling is likely the result of poor transcription rather than anything having to do with ducks. Alternate spellings include gweduc, gweduck, goeduck, and goiduck. It is sometimes known as the mud duck, king clam, or when translated literally from the Chinese characters 象拔蚌 (Pinyin: xiàngbábàng, Yale: jeuhngbahtpóhng), the elephant-trunk clam.
Native to the northwest coast of the United States and Canada (primarily Washington and British Columbia), these marine bivalve mollusks are the largest burrowing clams in the world, weighing in at an average of one to three pounds (0.5–1.5 kg) at maturity, but specimens weighing over 15 pounds (7.5 kg) and as much as 2 meters (over 6.5 ft) in length are not unheard of.
A related species, Panopea zelandica, is found in New Zealand and has been harvested commercially since 1989. The largest quantities have come from Golden Bay in the South Island where 100 tonnes were harvested in one year. There is a growing concern over the increase of parasites in the Puget Sound population of geoduck. Whether these microsporidium-like parasitic species were introduced by commercial farming is being studied by Sea Grant. Research to date does indicate their presence, with these parasites passed directly to Chinese who consume raw geoduck. Their long term effect on the human body is unknown at this time.
Geoducks are one of the longest-living organisms in the animal kingdom. The oldest recorded specimen was 168 years old, but individuals over 100 years old are rare. Scientists speculate that the geoduck's longevity is the result of low wear and tear. A geoduck sucks water containing plankton down through its long siphon, filters this for food and ejects its refuse out through a separate hole in the siphon. Adult geoducks have few natural predators, which may also contribute to their longevity. In Alaska, sea otters and dogfish have proved capable of dislodging geoducks; starfish also attack and feed on the exposed geoduck siphon.
Geoducks are broadcast spawners. A female geoduck produces about 5 billion eggs in her century-long lifespan—in comparison, a human female produces about 500 viable ova during the course of her life. However, due to a low rate of recruitment and a high rate of mortality for geoduck eggs, larvae and post-settled juveniles, populations are slow to rebound. In the Puget Sound, studies indicate that the recovery time for a harvested tract is 39 years.
The world's first geoduck fishery was created in 1970, but demand for the half-forgotten clam was low due to its texture. Today, these clams sell in Asia for over $150/lb (US$330/kg). With the rise in price has come the inevitable problems with poaching, most significantly the unknown numbers of geoduck harvested from polluted waters and sold overseas to the unsuspecting Asian consumers .
The geoduck's high market value has created an $80 million U.S. industry, with harvesting occurring in both Washington state and the province of British Columbia. It is one of the most closely regulated fisheries in both countries; in Washington, Department of Natural Resources staff are on the water continually monitoring harvests in order to assure revenues are received, and the same is true in Canada where the Underwater Harvesters' Association manages the Canadian Fishery in conjunction with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The Washington State Department of Health tests water and flesh in order to assure clams are not filtering and holding pollutants, an ongoing problem. As noted above, with the increase in value has has come poaching, with large quantities harvested from polluted waters which buyers simply ship to China . WDFW estimates 800,000 pounds may have passed through to China with no testing .
As of the 2007 season, advances in the testing system for contaminated clams have allowed geoduck harvesters to deliver live clams more consistently. The new testing system determines the viability of clams from tested beds before the harvesters fish the area. Previous methods tested clams after harvest. This advancement has meant that 90 percent of clams were delivered live to market in 2007. In 2001 only 10 percent were live. Because geoduck have a much higher market value live—an additional $2 to $3 per pound—this development has helped to stimulate the burgeoning industry.
Investigation of environmental impacts is just now beginning to occur. Demand has also led to a rapidly developing aquaculture industry. Geoduck aquaculture on private tidelands in Puget Sound, particularly in South Puget Sound, has been steadily growing over the last ten years, averaging about 10 new acres of cultivation per year. Currently less than 0.001% of Puget Sound is dedicated to geoduck farming. Geoduck farms use "predator exclusion devices" in which to plant the seed geoducks. These devices are PVC pipes 10 to 14 inches (360 mm) long, four to six inches (152 mm) in diameter, pushed into the tideland sediment. There are approximately 20,000 to 43,500 of these PVC pipes planted per acre on tidelands. These nursery tubes typically stay in the beach for the first year or two of a crop cycle.
The Environmental Defense Fund has done extensive studies of aquaculture and has found that bivalves (oysters, mussels, and clams), are beneficial to the marine environment. The water must be certifiably clean in order to plant geoducks commercially. This is a requirement of the Washington State Department of Health Office of Shellfish and Water Protection and of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Council.
Geoduck farming grow-out and harvest practices are highly controversial. These practices have created serious conflicts with shoreline property owners; concerns from nongovernmental organization (NGO's) (e.g., Tacoma Audubon and Sierra Club); and others simply interested in the health of Puget Sound. The shoreline development groups have expressed concerns including lack of regulation, aesthetics, effects on native geoduck populations, impacts on wildlife, farm debris, intensive farming/harvest techniques, agricultural densities of geoducks, carrying capacity of low-flushing inlets, near-shore habitat destruction, over enrichment of sediments from intensive shellfish bio deposits and the permanent conversion of natural ecosystems to intensive commercial agricultural use on the tidelands of Puget Sound. Shoreline developers are particularly concerned because they see shellfish farming as an impediment to continued bulkheading, upland deforestation and septic tank installation. The main objectives of the newly created Puget Sound Partnership include habitat preservation, habitat restoration, preservation of biodiversity and recovery of imperiled species (salmon).
As mandated by 2007 legislation, the Washington State Shellfish Aquaculture Regulatory Committee stakeholder group, including industry, agency and citizen representatives has convened to discuss regulation of this industry. Counties such as Pierce County have also begun to develop regulations covering tideland impacts from geoduck farming, something against which Taylor Shellfish has filed a suit.
Although some marine shoreline owners take issue with the visual impacts, a more important concern is their impact on the marine environment. While the tubes are actually only visible 2 to 3% of daylight hours over a six-year crop cycle, this also means they are leaching contaminants into the waters of Puget Sound. Additional concerns over the use of PVC tubes is their "escaping" from the farms and ending up in subtidal areas, uncollected. Attempts to have industry mark tubes which identify the grower have been met with strong resistance.
However, since the lowest tides in the summer are during mid-day, the visual and recreational impact of the tubes is greatest at the very time when the people of Puget Sound are likely to be using the beach. During summer, a citizen group shows that the average percentage of time during daylight hours that the farms are visible is 19% per day and the number of days from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day that farms are visible some portion of the day is 76%. This is calculated for geoducks planted to a +2 tidal level in Thurston County, Washington, one of the counties of South Puget Sound where the geoduck farms are clustered without any environmental siting criteria, public comment or environmental review. When calculated for a +3 tidal elevation (where geoduck are never farmed), the amount of visibility rises to an average per day of 23% of daylight hours and 87% of the days of the summer.
Impacts on tideland include placing as many as 44,000 PVC pipes per acre on privately held tidelands; removal of this "artificial reef" one to three years later; then harvest after five to six years. While these practices may have short-term impacts to the tidelands, these impacts are not nearly as great as the documented impacts from upland residential development including bulkheading of the shoreline (disrupting the natural beach creation process), deforestation of the upland (creating increased storm water run-off) and placing of septic systems in the shoreline habitat (creating nitrogen loading of the coastal waters). Fortunately, these upland impacts are readily dealt with through enforcement of existing regulations. Unfortunately, there are no meaningful regulations controlling geoduck farming and whatever the tideland impacts may be, whether short-term or long-term.
A January 2008 Washington Sea Grant paper, commissioned by the state of Washington to determine what studies existed on Geoduck aquaculture, found virtually no peer-reviewed research existed. Studies have been funded to determine short- and long-term environmental and genetic impacts. In southern Puget Sound, research has shown that the effect of geoduck farming on large mobile animals is ambiguous.
In Puget Sound, subtidal densities in the wild (0.3 individuals per square foot or less) are below farmed densities of ~2 geoducks per square foot. Each year new hatchery brood stock is taken from the wild stock. Farmed animals are not used as brood stock so genetically, farmed geoduck are the same as wild stocks. Moreover, wild geoduck occupy the intertidal zone down to 300 feet (91 m) below sea level. DNR and the tribes comanage the wild fishery and only harvest geoduck between the -18 to -70 foot depths. The annual leased harvest of the wild geoduck population by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources Geoduck Fisheries Program is about 4 million pounds a year.
Wildlife interactions are a concern and geoduck growers are adapting growing techniques to minimize these effects. A 2004 draft biological assessment, commissioned by three of the largest commercial shellfish companies in the Puget Sound region, examined the impacts of geoduck farming and identified no long term effects on threatened or endangered species.
Farm debris includes displaced net tops, rubber bands, and PVC tubes. The net tops used on the nursery pipes can come off and float away onto other beaches as debris and the rubber bands also can become debris in Puget Sound. To offset these environmental impacts most geoduck farmers have embraced environmental codes of practice including regular maintenance and debris clean-up of their own farms. In addition, the industry now does two annual beach cleanups to collect marine debris from all beaches in areas where they farm. Although as much as 20% of the debris collected in each cleanup has been aquaculture related, less than 5% of the 120 cubic yards (92 m3) collected to date has been related to geoduck farming. Unfortunately, because of the currents in Puget Sound, nets and tubing can be found far from any poorly maintained geoduck operations. This lack of control over loose gear remains a significant enough problem that bonding requirements are being considered as part of regulations being developed.
Harvesting takes place every four to six years. Water pressure hoses using up to 50 gallons of water per minute are used to extract the geoducks buried under two to three feet of sediment depth. There are no environmental impact studies related to intertidal harvest of geoduck as of August 2006, although the subtidal environmental impact studies done for the fisheries in BC and WA have found no detrimental effects in harvesting the clams. Geoduck farming is only conducted in clean, uncontaminated sediments so concern is limited to short-term increases in turbidity and short term effect on benthic organisms. The Department of Natural Resources of Washington State conducted the environmental impact study. DNR is itself in the business of leasing subtidal lands for commercial geoduck harvest and starting this year, intertidal lands for commercial geoduck farming.
The large, meaty siphon is prized for its savory flavor and crunchy texture. Geoduck is regarded by some as an aphrodisiac because of its phallic shape. It is very popular in China, where it is considered a delicacy, mostly eaten cooked in a fondue-style Chinese hot pot. In Korean cuisine, geoducks are eaten raw with spicy chili sauce, sautéed, or in soups and stews. In Japan geoduck is prepared as raw sashimi, dipped in soy sauce and wasabi. On Japanese menus, geoduck is called mirugai or mirukuigai and is considered to have a texture similar to an ark shell (known in Japanese as akagai). It is worth noticing that although mirugai is sometimes translated into English as "giant clam", it is distinguished from himejako sushi which is made from Tridacna gigas.
In popular culture
- Writer/director James Gunn has said that the geoduck was an inspiration for the slug-like alien parasites in his 2006 horror/comedy Slither.
- A documentary about geoducks, 3 Feet Under: Digging Deep for the Geoduck Clam, won the best documentary award at the Thunderbird International Film Festival.
- A geoduck farm was featured on the American Discovery Channel television show Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, on July 18, 2006.
- Geoduck was used as part of an exotic protein challenge on the first episode of Top Chef season 3 and episode six of Top Chef Masters season 2.
- Geoduck was featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on the Travel Channel in the "Pacific Northwest" episode. In it Anthony Bourdain, the host, helps catch geoducks and is then treated to an impromptu meal of geoduck on the beach.
- Used by Challenger Cosentino in Iron Chef America "Symon vs. Cosentino" (season 7, episode 4).
- In a 2009 episode of Will Work for Food celebrity chef Adam Gertler helped harvest, weigh, and prepare geoducks.
- Geoduck was used in a salad on the show Dinner: Impossible where host Robert Irvine cooked for the Winter X Games.
- On the show Chopped, geoduck was one of four required ingredients for the first round of the episode which crowned the Chopped Grand Champion.
- Used in Season 1 of Top Chef Canada during the Quickfire Challenge, when one contestant selected the item, and the contestants were surprised by being asked to use the ingredients of the contestant next to them instead of their own selection. The Chef (Rob) that was forced to use the Geoduck, and hated using it, ended up winning the challenge.
- Episode 3 of the first season of Bizarre Foods America on Travel Channel, set in Seattle, features host Andrew Zimmern following the process of Geoduck farming. He later assists in the harvest of a full-grown specimen on the tidal beaches of Puget Sound. Eating the fresh geoduck after a short blanching process, it is described as "ocean candy" by the host.
- A 2012 episode of Dragon's Den featured a pitch regarding geoducks.
- In the book The Egg and I the author, Betty MacDonald, describes the geoduck as a delicacy to local tribes, but said that she herself did not enjoy it.
- The geoduck is the official mascot of The Evergreen State College, located at the southernmost tip of Puget Sound in Olympia, Washington. The school's Latin motto, Omnia Extares (or, "let it all hang out") is at least partially intended as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the creature's phallic appearance.
- Panopea generosa Gould, 1850. Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species at http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=545994 on 28 December 2010.
- Vadopalas B., Pietsch T.W. & Friedman C.S. (2010) The proper name for the geoduck: Resurrection of Panopea generosa Gould, 1850, from the synonymy of Panopea abrupta (Conrad, 1849) (Bivalvia: Myoida: Hiatellidae). Malacologia 52(1): 169-173.
- "Geoduck". Dictionary.com. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/geoduck. Retrieved 2007-03-29.
- American Heritage Dictionary
- Vadopalas, B.; T.W. Pietsch & C.S. Friedman (2010). "The proper name for the geoduck: resurrection of Panopea generosa Gould, 1850, from the synonymy of Panopea abrupta (Conrad, 1849) (Bivalvia: Myoida: Hiatellidae)". Malacologia 52 (1): 169−173. http://www11.cac.washington.edu/burkemuseum/collections/ichthyology/documents/pietsch/Geoduck.pdf. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
- Orensanz, J. M. L., C. M. Hand, A. M. Parma, J. Valero, and R. Hilborn. 2004. Precaution in the harvest of Methuselahs clams-the difficulty of getting timely feedback from slow-paced dynamics. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 61:1355-1372.
- Georgina Willner. The Potential Impacts of the Commercial Geoduck (Panope generosa) Hydraulic Harvest Method on Organisms in the Sediment and at the Water-Sediment Interface in Puget Sound, Master's Thesis, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, June 2006.
- David Palazzi, Lynn Goodwin, Alex Bradbury, Bob Sizemore, Leigh Espy, Susan Sturges, Candis Ladenburg, and Blanch Sabottke. FINAL Supplemental Environment Impact Statement (S.E.I.S.) for The Puget Sound Commercial Geoduck Fishery, Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, May 23, 2001. pp. 135.
- Vedder, Tracy (March 3, 2011). "Chinese mafia rakes in millions from 'Puget Sound gold'". KOMOnews.com. http://www.komonews.com/news/problemsolvers/117024808.html. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
- Welch, Craig, 2012. NW geoducks fetch top dollar in China, and as prices soar, so do concerns about illegal harvesting in Puget Sound, Seattle Times, April 22, 2012, pp 1 & 10.
- Ess, Charlie. "Toxin test gives live market a boost; quota also gets a significant bump". National Fisherman. http://www.nationalfisherman.com/month-content.asp?ItemID=1110&pcid=184&cid=187&archive=yes. Retrieved 2008-08-01.
- Goldburg, Rebecca, et al. (2001), "Marine Aquaculture in the United States", Environmental Defense for Pew Oceans Commission.
- Commercial Shellfish Licensing & Certification Program, Washington State Department of Health Office of Shellfish and Water Protection, http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/commercial.htm, retrieved 2009-05-08
- Geoduck aquaculture in South Puget Sound, http://www.ProtectOurShoreline.org/slideshow/POS_ShellfishAquacultureConcerns.pdf
- Protect Our Shoreline
- APHETI-Association to Protect Hammersley, Eld and Totten Inlets
- Save Our Shoreline
- Responsible Shellfish Farming BC
- Henderson Bay Shoreline Association
- About the Partnership, Puget Sound Partnership, http://www.psp.wa.gov/aboutthepartnership.php, retrieved 2009-05-08
- Shellfish Aquaculture Regulatory Committee, Washington State Department of Ecology, http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/shellfishcommittee/index.html
- 2007 Shellfish Aquaculture Bill, SHB 2220, http://www.2leg.wa.gov/pub/billinfo/2007-08/Pdf/Bills/Session%20Law%202007/2220-S2.SL.pdf
- Geoduck Farm Visibility Chart, http://www.protectourshoreline.org/statistics/GeoduckFarmVisibilityChart.pdf
- Brown, R.A. & E.V. Thuesen, 2011. Biodiversity of mobile benthic fauna in geoduck (Panopea generosa) aquaculture beds in southern Puget Sound, Washington. Journal of Shellfish Research, 30: 771-776
- WDFW - Commercial Puget Sound Geoduck Regulations
- Washington State Department of Natural Resources Geoduck Fisheries Program, http://www.dnr.wa.gov/htdocs/adm/comm/fs03_159.html [dead link]
- King of Clams, http://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/Geoduck-King-of-Clams
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