Differences between the wildstock geoduck clam fishery and commercial geoduck aquaculture in Washington
The Washington state wildstock geoduck fishery is co-managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and it is coordinated with the Washington Treaty Tribes who have established geoduck harvest rights. The wildstock geoduck fishery is managed for harvest based on natural production, and artificial enhancement is not part of wildstock management plans. Geoduck fishing activity does not involve placement of any structures on marine bedlands, and geoduck clams are not planted to enhance fishery harvest areas. The bedlands where geoducks are harvested in the wildstock fishery are owned and managed by DNR for public benefit. The wild geoduck harvest areas (termed tracts) are assessed, fished to a pre-determined level, and are then closed to harvest until the geoduck density has recovered to a pre-fishing level. The harvested areas are allowed to recover through natural processes and recruitment of wild geoducks. The wildstock geoduck fishery is operated under a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Environmental Impact Statement (2001), tract-specific SEPA Environmental Assessment reports, and a federal low-impact Habitat Conservation Plan. These environmental documents are based on the subtidal wildstock geoduck harvest occurring between the -18 foot and the -70 foot (corrected to mean lower low water) water depth contours, with additional harvest buffers to protect eelgrass beds, Pacific herring spawning habitat, and upland eagle nests.
Commercial geoduck clam aquaculture occurs on privately-held or leased lands, and to date has been mostly in intertidal areas (on beaches). A WDFW Aquatic Farm Registration and Washington Department of Health (DOH) Shellfish License are required to cultivate and sell farm-raised geoducks. Import or transfer of shellfish (including geoducks) into Washington waters may require a WDFW Shellfish Import or WDFW Shellfish Transfer permit to control the spread of shellfish diseases and pests. The aquatic farmer uses hatchery-raised geoducks for propagation and typically plants geoduck “seed” at a higher density than what occurs in nature. The aquatic farmer does not rely on natural geoduck settlement to grow a standing stock. It is common for an aquatic farmer to use predator protection devices (pvc tubes or netting) around small geoduck “seed” when they are most vulnerable to predation by shrimp, crabs, flatfish, and sea stars (in the first 6 to 18 months after planting). A crop of geoducks may take 6-8 years to reach market size. After harvest, an intertidal area under an aquatic farmers control may be re-planted with geoduck seed to begin a new crop.