The Geoduck Dilemma

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A local funding institution, Sea Grant Washington, has awarded three grants to research projects aimed at demystifying an ongoing controversy: Does geoduck farming threaten the health of Puget Sound?

KUOW reporter Deborah Wang produced an interesting segment on this morning's news: geoduck farming is on the rise along Puget Sound beaches because of the giant clams' appeal in Asian markets (the 2-lb bivalves can fetch up to $100 per plate in Asian restaurants). But nearby homeowners and environmentalists oppose geoduck aquaculture, because of its impact on Puget Sound.

The farms themselves are marked by rows of PVC tubes and nets that protect the young clams from predators, giving the beaches an extremely unnatural appearance and potentially rendering the area uninhabitable by other aquatic species, including salmon. Residents also report continuous instances where farm debris litters the surrounding beaches.

Farmers argue that the geoducks, a native species, actually benefit the surrounding habitat because they act as natural water filters. And local shellfish farmers as a group assert that because they require a healthy and clean environment to produce high-quality shellfish, they are invested in the stewardship of the Sound.

But uncertainty clouds the controversy: little scientific data supports either argument. Although studies exist on mussel and oyster aquaculture, the geoducks and the associated farming methods are notably different, and produce different impacts. You can download a white paper on the current body of knowledge on geoduck farming, and read more about Sea Grant Washington's ongoing projects, here.

According to Wang's report, geoduck farmers are working on new methods that may allow them, for example, to discontinue the use of pipes and nets. In the meantime, environmentalists argue that there should be a moratorium on geoduck farming until farming practices and their associated risks and benefits are well understood.

The issue isn't a new one: you can read the P-I's coverage of the dispute from 2006 here.

Shellfish are an important part of diets around the globe. As overfishing and other unsustainable practices continue to pave the way toward the collapse of marine species, there is an ever-growing need for solid knowledge that will help us create innovative and sustainable farming solutions.

Local groups speaking out against geoduck farming include Protect our Shoreline and Save our Shoreline. Find more information about their arguments on their websites.

The Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association offers links to research supporting the environmental sustainability of shellfish farming.

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