Geoduck

The fishery

Geoduck is one of the most unique seafood delicacies in the world. Prized for their delicious, sweet, sea-fresh flavor and crunchy texture, Geoduck clams are one of British Columbia’s most valuable and sustainable shellfish harvests.

The Geoduck fishery is co-managed by the Underwater Harvesters Association (UHA) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The UHA represents the licence holders, crews, First Nations, and exporters actively marketing and managing the Geoduck fishery.  The UHA is renowned as a progressive group with the highest level of commitment to the geoduck resource. The UHA has developed the geoduck fishery into a highly specialized, sustainable industry that offers a premium live product to local and international markets.

About

Geoducks are the world’s largest burrowing clams. As a bivalve, they are filter feeders, meaning they filter surrounding water to consume small food particles like phytoplankton. Geoducks are broadcast spawners with separate sexes; when males spawn, the females release between 7 to 10 million eggs, fertilized externally. Within 48 hours, shelled larvae begin swimming, and weeks later, they drop to the ocean floor, where they start digging themselves into the ocean floor with a tiny foot that has developed on the bottom of their bodies. After reaching adulthood, geoducks lose the ability to dig, and their shells remain sedentary deep in the sand. Only their neck or siphon extends to feed on microscopic creatures or retracts to protect themselves from predators. Geoducks are a long-living species, often reaching over 100 years old. The oldest Geoduck recorded in Canada was 168 years old! The age of the clams can be estimated by the growth rings or ‘annuli’ on the shell, similar to the rings of a tree trunk. The average commercial size for Geoduck clams is approximately three pounds.

The harvest

Geoducks are individually harvested by highly skilled commercial divers and managed with great pride and care. Divers work at depths of 15 to 30 metres, moving along the ocean floor looking for a Geoduck show (the tip of a siphon or a dimple in the sand made by the tip of a siphon). When a diver finds a show, he uses a stinger (a nozzle with high-pressure water pumped down from the boat) to liquefy the sand around the clam. The clam is then carefully pulled out and gently placed in a bag clipped to the diver’s waist. When the bag is full, the diver signals the crew to hoist the bag up to the deck of the vessel. Once on board, the clams are gently emptied onto a sorting table, where they are banded to prevent the shell from gaping and help keep the clam alive.

Live Geoducks are transported in cages with liners that separate each product layer to avoid marking and prevent breakage during transport. The cages are labeled following strict guidelines, kept clean and cool, and ready for validation and distribution. Geoduck vessels typically have a crew of three people – two divers and a tender. There is no by-catch in the Geoduck fishery because they are hand-picked by commercial divers. At the end of each fishing day, the Geoducks are sent directly to a registered shellfish plant in Vancouver to be exported within 24-48 hours of the harvest.

Learn more about diving as a harvest method

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Sustainability

Geoduck clams are a long-lived species that require careful management; the Geoduck fishery has strict management measures in place. The fishery is limited entry with a specific number of eligible licences to harvest Geoduck. Each licence holder is allotted a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the fishing season. This TAC or quota is determined each year by the UHA and Department of Fisheries based on information from annual stock assessment surveys and catch data. At the end of each fishing day, a third-party monitor, Archipelago Marine Research, validates the harvested clams by weighing the catch and deducting its weight total from the licence holder’s individual quota. This ensures that the quota is not exceeded and guarantees no overfishing in any given fishing area.

The vessel master must have a DFO-approved catch validation and harvest Logbook assigned to each Geoduck licence holder. The Logbook must be carried on the licensed vessel when fishing for Geoducks to record the catch’s date, time, fishing location, and weight. Commercial geoduck harvest locations are open on a one or three-year rotational basis. This allows for review and analysis of harvest and research data to protect the resource.  The Geoduck fishery only harvests 1.2% to 1.8% of BC’s total Geoduck biomass (population). All the sustainability measures, including logbook documentation, dockside monitoring, at-sea monitoring, and annual stock assessment surveys, are fully funded by members of the UHA.

When

The fishery operates 12 months out of the year, starting on April 1st and ending on March 31st of the following year. Geoduck crews harvest throughout the year based on market demand and address market fluctuations. The winter months around Chinese New Year are the busiest time of year. From November to late February, the catch volume is the highest.

When

The fishery operates 12 months out of the year, starting on April 1st and ending on March 31st of the following year. Geoduck crews harvest throughout the year based on market demand and address market fluctuations. The winter months around Chinese New Year are the busiest time of year. From November to late February, the catch volume is the highest.

Where

Scientists and connoisseurs credit the pure, clean coastal waters of B.C. with the consistently high-quality Geoduck meat. Geoduck licences are broken up by the fishing location. The majority of licences are located on the North Coast, around Haida Gwaii. The second largest fishery is on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, around Tofino. The fewest licences are in the Gulf, between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, around Comox.

Before opening any area for geoduck fishing, extensive water quality and bio-toxin testing ensure the product is harvested from pristine and safe waters. Once an area is approved, the UHA works with the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency to complete ongoing sampling for all Geoduck harvest areas before openings and during harvests.

The market

The largest market for Geoduck is China and Hong Kong. Since Geoduck is only sold live, the UHA has developed a dependable distribution system to rush live product to market within one to two days of the harvest. For example, a geoduck harvested on Monday in the Strait of Georgia is packaged in Vancouver later that evening and loaded onto an international flight early on Tuesday morning. Geoduck is popular in Europe, Singapore, Vietnam, and Canada. For more information on Geoduck, head to www.geoduck.org