Pronounced "gooey-duck", the name comes from the Nisqually Indian "gwe-duk" meaning "dig-deep"
Distribution and Seasons
Geoduck clams are found throughout coastal British Columbia in each of the management areas from the intertidal zone to depths of at least 110 metres. The clams begin to burrow into the substrate within 40 to 50 days of birth, and they can bury to a depth of 60 cm in two years. Few predators can reach them once they are successful in achieving this depth. A geoduck grows rapidly for the first 10 to 15 years. By that time, it has grown so large that its shell cannot close around it. Recruitment to the fishery begins at age four and by age 12, geoducks are fully vulnerable to harvest. They are harvested individually by divers using a directed water jet called a "stinger" which loosens the substrate around the clams and allows them to be lifted out. Commercial geoduck harvesters can tell where the clams are buried by their "shows" (the visible exposed tip of a siphon or dimple left in the sand from a retracted siphon), and divers are expert "show readers" whether by sight when the weather is good or by feel in zero visibility conditions.
The fishery is conducted throughout the year, but not every area is open every year. Closures can also occur as a result of paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) or "red tide" contamination. Because they do not move, these bivalves cannot escape the plankton blooms which, while harmless to the clams, can be fatal to humans. Once the bloom has passed, the clams will naturally purge themselves of the poison. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Environment Canada, and the Underwater Harvesters Association together manage a monitoring program which ensures that geoducks harvested in Canadian waters are safe to eat.
Geoducks have been fished commercially in British Columbia since 1976. Landings peaked in 1987 at 4239 tonnes but have declined to about 1559 tonnes per year as a result of management actions designed to promote resource conservation. The fishery is managed by a combination of a total allowable catch (TAC), a catch verification program, and individual licence quotas (there are 55 licences and each licence-holder is a member of the Underwater Harvesters Association). A three-year area rotational process is in effect in many areas of the coast. Each of the three geographic regions of the coast (North Coast, West Coast of Vancouver Island and Inside Waters), is divided into three sub-units with roughly equal geoduck harvest areas. Some of these sub-units are fished at three times the annual exploitation rate once every three years. The exceptions to rotational fisheries are in Areas 16 and 23 to 27 which are fished annually to increase flexibility in harvest management. Rotational fisheries concentrate effort making it easier to monitor quotas and validate landings.
Enhancement and aquaculture efforts are also beginning to play a role in the British Columbia geoduck fishery. Geoduck brood stock was first collected in 1993 and juvenile seed geoducks have been produced at several hatcheries in British Columbia. The geoduck seed produced by the hatcheries is used by lease holders for aquaculture, and by the Underwater Harvesters Association (UHA) for enhancing the wild stocks. Geoducks take five to seven years (at least) to grow to marketable size, so experiments are being conducted on harvesting and marketing the farmed product raised by the UHA and Fan Seafoods. The UHA and Fan Seafoods have partnered in a number of scientific research projects related to geoduck culture.
Geoducks - called the "elephant trunk clam" by the Chinese - are among the longest-lived animals in the world. Growth-ring analysis of shells shows many individuals live for more than 100 years. The longest-lived specimen to date was 146 years old when harvested. Geoducks are unique among clams because of the length of their siphons or necks; it is this feature that enables them to burrow so deeply. Geoducks eat and breathe by sticking their distinctively long necks above the sand, sucking water in through one tube (to extract algae and oxygen) and spitting water out the other.
In order to preserve the value of their catch and ensure consumer safety, the members of the Underwater Harvesters Association have developed a "Market Approved" protocol to reduce the chance of illegally caught geoduck clams moving into commercial distribution. Immediately after harvest and until delivery to a federally registered shellfish establishment, all commercially harvested geoducks must be packed in "cages" with a maximum weight (while empty) of 5 lbs. per cage. The cages and cage dividers must be clean and fabricated from approved material. All cages used for "Market Approved" wild product harvested by members of the UHA are packed in cages provided by the UHA. Weights must be validated by independent observers at the point of landing, and the information must be recorded in government-approved logbooks. A copy of the appropriate logbook entry must accompany the product to the federally registered processing plant or distributor. Each cage must be tagged and labelled with information that would allow officials to trace the animal back to its point of origin, should such an investigation be necessary.
Live geoducks are commonly packed in styrofoam crates with moist food-grade paper dividers and cool packs to ensure product quality and freshness. These valuable animals are moved quickly into the marketplace. A clam harvested Monday in the Strait of Georgia would be packaged in Vancouver Monday night and on a flight to Hong Kong Tuesday morning. Once delivered to retail establishments or restaurants, live geoducks can be returned to clean salt water for display and sale. Information on the UHA "Market Approved" program.
Like many seafood items, geoducks are most valuable when they are delivered live and kept in a chilled salt-water tank with good water circulation until ready to be cooked and served. However, the siphon meat, chilled or flash-frozen and vacuum-packed is sometimes available and offers great convenience for users. Dried body meat, used in the preparation of Chinese soup tonics, is also available at times.
The geoduck's sweet flavour and crunchy texture reveal themselves best when the clam is eaten either raw (in sushi or sashimi) or very quickly cooked (in a stir fry or hot pot). Geoduck toughens when cooked so a quick plunge into boiling water or sauce is all that's needed. Click Step-by-step instructions on removing the clam from its shell and for several exciting recipes created by award-winning chefs.
Safety and Wholesomeness Assured
Canada has one of the world's most respected fish inspection and control systems. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) sets the policies, requirements and inspection standards for fish products, federally registered fish and seafood processing establishments, importers, fishing vessels, and equipment used for handling, transporting and storing fish. All establishments which process fish and seafood for export or inter-provincial trade must be federally registered and must develop and implement a HACCP-based Quality Management Program (QMP) plan. A processing establishment's QMP plan outlines the controls implemented by the fish processor to ensure that all fish products are processed under sanitary conditions, and that the resulting products are safe and meet all regulatory requirements. Canada's fish-inspection and control system contributes to Canada's worldwide reputation for safe, wholesome fish and seafood products. Buyers can be assured that seafood from Canada will continue to meet the increasingly rigorous safety and wholesomeness standards required by the world's major seafood markets.
After peaking in 1987, landings have remained stable at about 1,559 tonnes per year. The success of the geoduck fishery is, in part, related to the switch in 1989 to an individual vessel quota (IVQ) system and to the development of a live market for the clams. Under the IVQ system, each licence is allotted an equal share of the annual allowable catch. Fishermen receive maximum value for their product by working closely with their buyers and timing their harvest to optimal market conditions. To learn more about the management of geoduck clams...
NOTE: These processors are volume wholesalers and are not usually set up to deal directly with consumers.
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