Lummi Nation Shellfish Hatchery Adds All-Night Algae Feeders

Lummi’s shellfish hatchery grows its own algae to feed millions of geoduck, manila and oyster seeds.
Lummi’s shellfish hatchery grows its own algae to feed millions of geoduck, manila and oyster seeds.

By: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


The Lummi Nation’s shellfish hatchery is adding an all-night feeding system to its algae-growing operation.

For years, the hatchery has grown its own algae to feed growing manila clam, geoduck and oyster larvae. The new system installed this winter consists of 60 algae-filled bags in glowing Gatorade shades that pump directly into the raceways.

One of the hatchery’s three geoduck systems consists of 11 raceways that hold about 6 million geoduck seeds, which can go through 30,000 liters of algae a day.

“The new algae bag system will operate 24-7,” said Flavian Point, Lummi shellfish hatchery manager. “Overnight, it can produce an amount of algae that is equivalent to one of the hatchery’s 15,000-liter algae tanks.”

The geoduck operation has a total of 20 raceways when all three systems are online, having expanded from five raceways since 2010.

The expansion has provided new job opportunities. In addition to eight full-time staff, AmeriCorps provides five employees for 20 hours each week, and two tribal members have been hired through the Dislocated Fishers Program, which helps fishermen earn a living between fishing seasons.

The shellfish hatchery used to support itself through seed sales until the Lummi Nation took over operating costs in exchange for manila clam and oyster seed to enhance the reservation tidelands for tribal harvest. Only the geoduck seed is sold commercially.

Concerned about increasing water temperatures as a result of climate change, some of the geoduck seed customers, which include the Squaxin Island Tribe, have started seeding their beds earlier, which required the hatchery to spawn geoducks a month earlier.

“The goal is to get the seed planted before the water temperatures get too warm,” Point said. “The seed is looking good and the larvae on schedule to be ready in April.”

Tribes Recovering from Geoduck Ban

Mar 19th, 2014 Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Western Washington tribes are quickly recovering from a sudden ban in December 2013 on selling geoduck to China.

The Asian country claimed it received a shipment of geoduck from Ketchikan, Alaska, that had high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning, and a shipment from Poverty Bay in Puyallup, Wash., that had high levels of arsenic.

Suquamish Seafoods employee James Banda packs geoduck for international shipping.
Suquamish Seafoods employee James Banda packs geoduck for international shipping.

As a result, China announced it was banning all imports of bivalve shellfish from Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Northern California. This was just before the Chinese New Year, a lucrative time for harvesters and buyers, when geoducks are traditionally served.

“It was bad at the beginning because we didn’t know what was going on,” said Tony Forsman, general manager of the Suquamish Tribe’s Suquamish Seafoods, which regularly ships shellfish internationally. “China didn’t tell us for two weeks they were doing this.”

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been working with Chinese officials to determine how they came to their conclusions and have been in close communication with Washington Department of Health and western Washington tribal officials about the progress. Officials from NOAA are meeting in person with officials from China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine this month to further discuss the situation.

The shellfish in question from Poverty Bay passed all the rigorous tests needed to be exported to China, said David Fyfe, shellfish biologist for Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“We’re working with China to figure out why we suddenly don’t meet their standards,” he said.

In the meantime, harvesters and buyers are continuing to send their catches to other Asian countries, including Vietnam. U.S. officials are asking China to reduce the ban area from the West Coast to just the two original areas of concern.

Suquamish Seafoods had to layoff nine employees in December – including those who sort, pack and ship the shellfish – but everyone was re-hired by mid-February. Suquamish Tribe harvesters annually gather nearly 500,000 pounds of geoduck.

“There have been blips in the market, such as having to sell smaller geoduck, plus market pressure forced prices down,” Forsman said. “We’ve all just had to adjust – divers, market, buyers, us. Things are fine now but we had to adjust and adjust fast.”

Despite the “blip”, it did prove that the United States shellfish quality control system works, Fyfe said. Harvesters have to meet the National Shellfish Sanitation Program standards, which includes providing information about the harvester, day and tract from which shellfish was harvested.


Developing A Taste For Geoduck In The Northwest

Michael Gifford, chef at Seattle's How To Cook A Wolf, shows off a geoduck he's preparing. | credit: Ashley Ahearn
Michael Gifford, chef at Seattle’s How To Cook A Wolf, shows off a geoduck he’s preparing. | credit: Ashley Ahearn

By Ashley Ahearn, OPB

The Locavore movement is thriving in the Northwest — with one big exception. When it comes to Puget Sound geoduck clams, the shellfish industry and local chefs are still trying to create a demand for them at home.

Geoduck clams from Washington state are prized in Asia, creating a lucrative market for the Puget Sound region’s tribal and commercial shellfish harvesters. But two months ago, China banned all shellfish imports from most of the West Coast after finding high levels of arsenic in a sample from Washington. The move has hit Washington hard, particularly the geoduck industry.

And that has the industry turning to local chefs to help boost demand close to home.

Local chef Michael Gifford remembers his first experience with geoduck clams. He got his first taste at a sushi restaurant soon after he moved to Seattle from New Jersey.

“I was like, wow, I’ve never seen this before. It’s really unique. We’re very fortunate here to have this product,” Gifford says.

These days Gifford is the chef at the Seattle restaurant How To Cook A Wolf, where geoduck clams make regular appearances on the menu. He extolled the virtues of the region’s largest clam recently while preparing geoduck crudo, or in the raw.

“This is going to get a little raunchy. As you can see the geoduck is a very phallic looking animal,” he said, standing in the stainless steel kitchen as two large clams sat on a shelf nearby, their foot-long siphons draping down.

“So what we do is we bring them in, let them relax a little bit, let them go down and get out to its natural length,” Gifford quips. These necks can stretch to a meter in length.

Gifford is ready to remove the skin from a geoduck’s neck. Credit: Ashley Ahearn.


Gifford places the clams into boiling water, then into ice water to “shock them.” This process makes it easy to remove the outer skin of the geoduck.

When these filter-feeders are burrowed in the sand and mud of Puget Sound, their outer skin gathers more arsenic and other trace metals than does the rest of their body. The Washington Department of Health confirmed this in December, when it went back and tested more than 50 geoduck clams after China instituted its ban. The skin of every single clam had amounts of arsenic that exceed levels that China has deemed safe for human consumption.

The clams’ other body tissue types — those found in the neck, the mantle and the gut ball — were OK in all but one sample tested by the Washington state agency.

Bill Dewey is with Shelton, Wash.-based Taylor Shellfish Farms, which bills itself as the largest producer of geoducks in the United States. He says the company has had more testing done on several different kinds of shellfish it sells, including geoduck. The levels of metals are all very low, but they’re there.

“You will see arsenic, cadmium, selenium, all sorts of different metals some good for you some not good for you in all your shellfish,” Dewey says.

The Washington Department of Health rigorously tests shellfish for biotoxins and bacteria that can make people sick immediately. But it doesn’t regularly test for metals. Past tests from the DOH have shown metals in shellfish at levels below public health concerns. As with all seafood, it’s a question of how much shellfish you eat.

As Michael Gifford slices pearly strips of flesh off of the neck of a geoduck clam, it’s hard to think of anything other than the next step in his recipe.



He’s finely mincing Fresno chili peppers and celery. Then he smears a green stripe of avocado puree onto the plate. Finally, Gifford arranges the silken white, paper-thin strips of geoduck in ruffles.

“So then, the real fun. We’ll dress it with some nice olive oil. Little bit of lemon. We use fleur de sel, a very nice sea salt,“ Gifford says. “It’s not full of brine, but you’re getting that hint of the ocean.”

For centuries native Americans harvested geoducks from the tideflats of Puget Sound. (The word “geoduck” comes from the Nisqually word “gweduc,” meaning “dig deep.”) These were the biggest clams to be found — weighing as much as 16 pounds or more. Northwest Indians ate them fresh or smoked. By the late 1800s the region’s white settlers came to consider them a delicacy. But by the mid-20th century geoducks had all but disappeared from area beaches. To prevent the clams from becoming extinct, the government made it illegal to sell geoduck clams in restaurants and markets.

In the 1970s scuba divers discovered that geoduck clams hadn’t actually been harvested to extinction. They were bountiful in the deeper waters of Puget Sound. But by then, few Northwesterners had an interest in dinning on them in area restaurants.   But the story took a different turn in Asia. An intense marketing campaign popularized them in Asia — especially among the newly rich Chinese — causing the price to soar. They’re an especially popular delicacy around the lunar New Year (aka Chinese New Year), which takes place this year on Jan. 31.

A geoduck crudo prepared by chef Michael Gifford. Credit: Ashley Ahearn


Though the clams are popular abroad, local markets are still growing. Bill Dewey says for the past decade or so, Taylor Shellfish has been actively promoting geoduck to restaurants around the Northwest. There are now close to 20 restaurants in Seattle with geoduck on the menu.

Geoduck can sell for close to $100 per pound in China, while Seattle restaurants pay around $20 per pound. The domestic market isn’t making up for the industry’s losses abroad.

Dewey says his company has had to cut back. “We did our best through the holidays to keep people employed, but ultimately it’s gone on long enough that we’ve had to lay some people off,” Dewey says. Taylor has laid off 14 people and estimates its losses at upwards of $1 million.

The Chinese ban is affecting others, too. Divers with the Suquamish and other tribes have been out of work for weeks, losing thousands of dollars every day. The Department of Natural Resources is out close to $1 million in revenue from geoduck harvested on state lands.

Dewey says he’s optimistic that China might lift the ban soon.

For now, geoduck may be a tough sell for most Northwest diners. But if more chefs like Michael Gifford have their way with this quirky clam, the future might look a little more delicious.

Katie Campbell contributed to this report. Toni Tabora-Roberts produced this story for the web.


Wash. Officials Say Shellfish Is Safe For China To Import


Ashley Ahearn, Earth Fix

SEATTLE — Washington state officials said Tuesday they found lower contamination levels when they tested geoduck clams than those alleged by China when it said geoduck imported from Puget Sound had high levels of arsenic.

China cited its findings in December when it imposed the largest ban on shellfish imports from Northwest waters — as well as from California and Alaska — in the region’s history.

Chinese officials said they found inorganic arsenic levels of .5 parts per million in the shellfish they tested in October.

But Washington officials’ tests produced different results.

“Only one of the whole samples was above China’s standard of .5 (parts per million) and everything else was below that, so that was good news,” said Dave McBride, who oversaw the testing at the Washington Department of Health.

The Department of Health tested more than 50 geoduck clams from the allegedly contaminated area, analyzing the different body parts of the clams to compare arsenic concentration levels.

The details of the test results are perhaps revealing than the overall “whole sample” figures. The skin of the clams tested by Washington exceeded China’s safe levels of inorganic arsenic by as much as three times, although McBride said that should not be worrisome to China, given how the Chinese consume geoduck clams.

“People generally do not eat the skin and we would advise people, when you eat geoduck, to remove the skin,” he said. “What we think is that, for the vast majority of the public, this is not a health issue at all. Obviously, when we’re talking about a carcinogen there is always the risk for high consumers.”

McBride added that the whole, or averaged samples, for several other clams came close to the .5ppm limit set by the Chinese.

The World Health Organization is said to be considering setting safe levels for inorganic arsenic in food in the .2-.3ppm range in 2014.

The shellfish that tested high for inorganic arsenic in China were harvested from a tract of land managed by the Department of Natural Resources that has since been closed. The tract is within the shadow of a copper smelter that was operated near Tacoma for 100 years.

“Well we know that arsenic levels are elevated in the surface soils in that area,” said Marian Abbett, manager of the Tacoma smelter clean up for the Washington Department of Ecology. Soil samples from the surrounding land show levels of arsenic between 40 and 200ppm, though that number does not directly equate to levels of arsenic that will end up in the water, or in shellfish.

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 12.16.20 PM
Soil arsenic levels resulting from the historic deposition by the Tacoma smelter
in the vicinity of the geoduck tracts of interest. (Courtesy: ATSDR/DOH)



Inorganic arsenic levels are higher in soils in the area immediately surrounding the smelter, though wind patterns also lead to higher concentrations ending up in soil samples to the northeast of the smelter, where the shellfish were harvested.

“I’d be nervous after a big rainfall event,” said Kathy Cottingham, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College who studies arsenic exposure and human health. “With soils that contaminated you need to worry about the episodic events of a big rainstorm or snowmelt causing pulses into the water.”

The area was closed to all shellfish harvest until 2007, when the Puyallup Tribe petitioned state agencies to reopen the tract for geoduck harvest. At that time the Department of Health conducted tests on geoduck in the area and found levels of .05ppm. That’s an order of magnitude below the amount found by the Chinese in October of 2013 and well within the safety parameters set by the Chinese.

However, state agencies have not tested for inorganic arsenic or other metals in shellfish from the area since it was reopened in 2007.

Arsenic is a carcinogen that has also been associated with long-term respiratory effects, disruption of immune system function, cardiovascular effects, diabetes and neurodevelopmental problems in kids.

“There’s no safe level, but at some point you’ve crossed the threshold to being really dangerous and we don’t quite know where that threshold is at this point,” Cottingham said.

The Food and Drug Administration has delayed setting a safe level for arsenic in food. Washington state does not regularly test for arsenic in shellfish.

McBride said he did not see a need to test the Tacoma site further after his agency’s extensive sampling.

“I think we have a pretty good handle that this area is pretty clean and wouldn’t require further testing,” he said. “The lab results have been sent to (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and NOAA has sent them on to the state department to the Chinese (as of yesterday). We’re waiting to hear if and when the ban might be lifted.”

Geoduck industry fighting China’s shellfish-import ban

Washington geoduck farmers and harvesters have turned to politicians to help overturn a Chinese shellfish-import ban that’s all but shut down the local industry.

By Jay Greene, December 14, 2013 the Seattle Times

Washington geoduck harvesters and government officials, including Gov. Jay Inslee, are scrambling to overturn China’s decision to ban some shellfish exports from the Pacific Northwest.

The ban has brought the geoduck industry here to a virtual halt.

Fish inspectors in China notified the U.S. Embassy on Dec. 3 that China was tentatively suspending imports of geoduck and other “double-shell aquatic animals,” such as oysters, because they found high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, in a Nov. 21 shipment of geoducks.

PSP is a biotoxin produced by algae that shellfish eat and, in humans, in high levels it can lead to severe illness and even death.

KUOW first reported news of the ban.

The ban is a particularly nettlesome problem in Washington because China accounts for about 90 percent of geoduck exports from the state. And fisheries in the state harvest and farm 5.5 million to 7 million pounds of geoduck annually, according to Taylor Shellfish Farms, one of the state’s largest geoduck providers. Those companies generally sell geoduck, which is a burrowing clam, for between $7 and $25 a pound.

The ban also affects Alaskan shellfish.

Local fish companies, though, are struggling to understand the ban because testing by the Washington State Department of Health in the area where the geoduck shipments originated found PSP levels well below internationally accepted limits.

“We’ve gone back and looked at all records — they show results way below any human-health concern,” Donn Moyer, a health-department spokesman, said Saturday. “We don’t have any evidence or information whatsoever about any high levels of PSP in any shellfish.”

Geoduck harvesters believe the Chinese inspectors applied a standard for the level of toxicity that is well below what is considered safe for humans.

“The numbers I saw (that Chinese inspectors used) are just plain ridiculous,” said Tony Forsman, general manager of Suquamish Seafoods, a business run by the Suquamish Tribe.

To compound the challenge, communication from the Chinese government has been scant. State regulators and fishery executives say they have heard nothing more from the Chinese since the Dec. 3 notification. Press officials from the Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t respond to an email query Saturday.

That’s led the industry to turn to political leaders to resolve the issue. On Friday, the governor and Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark sent a letter to the heads of the Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asking them to engage in “direct interaction with the Chinese government” to determine the status of the ban and to gather information about the Chinese inspection.

In the meantime, local geoduck harvesters and farmers are curtailing operations. Suquamish Seafoods, which sends all of its geoduck, between $2 million and $3 million a year, to China, has idled its 24 divers.

“This is unprecedented,” Forsman. “The tribe really depends on it.”

Taylor Shellfish Farms, which sells some geoduck domestically, has had to reduce hours for its workers. And if the Chinese ban continues much longer, prices for geoduck sold domestically will drop because of a market glut.

“That may have an impact on domestic prices,” said Bill Dewey, Taylor’s director of public policy and communications.

Staff reporter Carol M. Ostrom contributed to this report. Jay Greene: 206-464-2231 or Twitter: iamjaygreene

Geoducks, Crabs and Sea Slugs For Food and Profit

Jackleen De La Harpe, Indian Country Today Media Network

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe crabbers fish for Dungeness with a seductive perfume—the smelliest squid, herring and oily fish—bait that lures crab into the pot for harvest. Dungeness, a sweet, meaty crab, is an important commercial fishery in the Pacific Northwest and a central fishery for the tribe, located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Fished by size, sex and season—no less than 6.25 inches, no females, and no take during the molt cycle—this management strategy contributes to a successful, sustainable crab fishery. This year, a two-day Dungeness opening in Puget Sound netted more than 150,000 pounds of crab in 48 hours.

Dungeness crab
Dungeness crab


Cliff Prince, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, understands the great value of the fishery, especially for his family. “My son, David, has been on my boat since he was 8 years old,” he said. “Being able to spend summers with him is a big thing for our family.” This may be the last summer that David Prince, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, fishes with his father. Prince, 22, a junior at Stanford, is majoring in American Studies and plans to apply to graduate school after he graduates.

“Most of the money I’ve ever had came from crabbing,” he said. “I learned about work from going out with my dad, getting up at 4 in the morning and getting home at 7 at night. It’s the kind of thing that’s shaped a lot of my life. It’s a few thousand hours I wouldn’t have had otherwise (with my dad), being out there every day.” For the tribe, he said, Dungeness crab is “life, meaning everything. It’s what you’ve got, it’s that and fish, and it’s why we’re still here. Going out on the water to get fish and crab, it’s what sustained the tribe back as far as anyone can remember.”

2. Scavenging the Spineless, Slippery ‘Slug-Like’ Sea Cucumber

Fishermen from Lummi Nation harvest a typical array of Northwest fish and shellfish — Dungeness crab, halibut, salmon, shrimp — and a relatively new fishery, the “exotic” sea cucumber, a spineless, slippery “slug-like” creature that divers pull from the rocks and sea floor. Phillip Jefferson, 43, Lummi Nation, began diving for cucumbers in 2001 when the fishery was just getting underway. Now he helps train some of the 50 people from Lummi who earn their living underwater—serious, difficult work that requires certification and strict adherence to safety procedures. Besides the cold Pacific waters, at near-constant temperatures of 45-50 degrees F, strong currents can tire divers while sharks or sea lions, which can weigh as much as a ton, may startle and alarm divers with limited underwater sight. Equipped with surface-supplied air, full face masks or helmets and mesh bags, fishermen may dive to depths of 60-90 feet to harvest the reddish-brown “ocean detritivore,” which is sold in Seattle and to markets in China, the Philippines, and Japan.

Sea cucumber (Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration; Underwater Photographer Kevin Lee.)
Sea cucumber (Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration; Underwater Photographer Kevin Lee.)


Jefferson’s diving supports his family and allowed him to buy his own boat, named for his daughter, Keesha Rae, 14. On a good day, he said, it’s possible to bag 300 pounds of cucumbers. Dive fisheries, including the sea cucumber, make up a small and important part of the Lummi Nation fisheries, grossing an estimated copy.2 million in 2011. Working underwater can be straightforward, he said, “when it’s really bright, you can see a long way.” At other times, it is complicated and even mysterious “when the tide is moving hard and the current creates a lot of debris, like snow. You can’t use a light and can’t do without one. Divers call it a whiteout.” He’s seen cucumbers curl up like corkscrews to avoid predators and roll away with the tide or stand on their tails like a cobra about to strike, perhaps to spawn or elude a predator, which could well be Jefferson himself. With a rapid reproduction cycle and continued management, Jefferson believes he’ll be able to dive for this thriving fishery well into the future.

3. The Spiritual Experience of Digging for Mollusks

Geoduck, in the Salish language, means dig deep. Northwest locals understand geoduck (pronounced gooey duk) to mean really big clam, which weighs, on average, two to three pounds. Dig deep may also refer to wallets—geoduck is found infrequently in U.S. restaurants because it is so expensive—most is shipped to China where, after it has been brokered, can cost as much as copy50 per pound on the plate. This high market value is one reason that makes it one of the most closely regulated fisheries in the U.S. and Canada.

Five-year-old Elona Bowyer of Gig Harbor, a bay on Puget Sound, holds a large geoduck. (AP Photo/Peter Haley)
Five-year-old Elona Bowyer of Gig Harbor, a bay on Puget Sound, holds a large geoduck. (AP Photo/Peter Haley)


The Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the State of Washington carefully co-manage the geoduck fishery. At the end of a diving day and before a boat is allowed to leave a fishing tract, the catch must be weighed to account for the harvest. Most of edible part of the geoduck is the siphon, which looks like an elephant trunk and can stretch from three or four feet under the sediment stopping just at the marine floor to feed. Divers find the hidden clam by looking for a bit of siphon sticking above the sediment or a cryptic discoloration in the sand. With a shot of high-pressure water, the diver exposes the siphon and catches the clam by the “neck” before it retracts deeper below the surface.

Marvin Johnson, 29, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, a certified commercial diver, has been a geoducker for the last three years. This work is his calling, his talent and a blessing, he said, because it allows him to support his family. But it is not just the economics—digging has made him spiritually and physically stronger.

“It’s a spiritual experience to be out on the water,” he said, “it’s especially spiritual to go underneath the water. Our ancestors didn’t have the ability to put on a dry suit, it’s something that it new to us—the crabs walking with you, fish swimming around you, you can see God’s beauty down there.”

4. Keeping Pace With the Speedy Razor Clams

Skill and speed—that’s the combination of a successful Quinault Indian Nation razor clam digger. Razor clams, identified by thin, delicate bronze shells, are fast; they can dig at a rate of two feet in less than a minute. Diggers look for telltale hole in the sand, jam a shovel down, and plunge a hand behind the blade to stop the clam from getting away. The Quinaults process the sweet clam meat at the tribally owned processor, Quinault Pride Seafoods, and sell the clams primarily in the Northwest for chowder or steaks. In the U.S., other than Alaska, only the Quinault Indian Nation commercially harvests razor clams for human consumption.

When scouring the beach for razor clams, diggers look for a dimple in the sand left by the clam's siphon; then they dig as fast as possible.
When scouring the beach for razor clams, diggers look for a dimple in the sand left by the clam’s siphon; then they dig as fast as possible.


Gerald Ellis, Quinault Indian Nation, starting digging when he was six years old and remembers traveling with his family to Celilo Falls on the Columbia River to trade tubs of fresh-dug razor clams for spring Chinook salmon. Meeting at Celilo was a way of life for his family as it was for so many coastal and river tribes in the Northwest, who traveled to Celilo Falls to trade, fish and reconnect. That tradition of thousands of years ended in 1957 when the roaring falls were submerged with the completion of the Dalles Dam.

“Celilo Falls was probably the biggest gathering place for all tribes in the nation, there was such an abundance of fish,” Ellis said. At 68, Ellis no longer digs commercially but takes his grandchildren with him to harvest his 100-clam limit, carrying on traditions that have existed from the beginning of time, and creating his own. He smokes and cans razor clams with jalapenos, an “awesome” combination that he doesn’t sell but trades and shares with family and friends.