DNR AND GEODUCK AQUACULTURE
Geoduck aquaculture is farming on tidelands— where salt water tides ebb and flow— to cultivate large geoduck clams, considered a delicacy, particularly in Asia. The clams are planted as seed and grown out from 5 to 7 years until they are large enough to be sold on the commercial geoduck market.
During the past decade, private geoduck farming has become common throughout Puget Sound—with about 200 acres of private tidelands cultivated.
The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) currently does not have a geoduck cultivation leasing program. However, the agency leases state-owned aquatic lands for oyster, clam and other types of aquaculture. Some tideland leases have been active since before statehood in 1889. DNR oversees the wild (not aquaculture) geoduck harvesting in the deep marine waters in Puget Sound and the Straits of Juan de Fuca.
DNR & Geoduck Aquaculture Leasing
In 2003 the state legislature directed DNR to look into the potential of a geoduck aquaculture program on state-owned aquatic lands. Since that time DNR has used a measured approach to evaluate the benefits and cost of such a program. As steward of the state’s aquatic lands, DNR is committed to ensuring geoduck aquaculture operations would be environmentally sound, sustainable, and in the best interest of the public statewide. Since January 2009, DNR has been re-evaluating its role for a potential leasing program originally, initiated in 2006, and has conducted a public dialogue forum for public and stakeholder discussions. A final decision is forthcoming.
DNR Forum on Geoduck Aquaculture
What would a potential DNR Geoduck Lease Operation look like?
If DNR were to lease tidelands for geoduck aquaculture, lease areas would range in size from about half an acre to about 4 acres in size each. Lands offered for lease would be in the Puget Sound area. In this area, not all tidelands are owned by the state, and not all tidelands have desirable conditions to support geoduck aquaculture.
Under the process initiated in 2003, site characteristics were chosen: A preference of no adjacent residential development, a preference for a beach with high bank, suitable beach sediments, an absence of eelgrass, low natural shellfish densities, low recreational or tribal shellfish use, more than 200’ from wild geoduck tracts, and good potential to be approved for Health Certification.
Early Geoduck Aquaculture Process
Operations on the lease areas would be most obvious (visual) during the first two years, when tubes and netting are used to protect young geoduck seed from predators. Typically, protection is provided by placing the geoduck seed inside of a 10 to 12 inch length of 6 inch diameter PVC pipe, or variations such as Vexar tubes, placed on end and buried in the tideland substrate with 2 to 3 inches exposed. The clams are planted three or four per tube to maximize productivity. Netting usually is placed over the entire tube field to protect the geoduck from predators, secure them from wave action, and reduce visual impacts. Tubes and netting typically are removed after two growing seasons, leaving the farm virtually invisible for three to five years until harvest. Workers would periodically access the farm for maintenance and to conduct harvest operations. Harvest would take place by hand with the aid of a pressurized hose and nozzle system designed to loosen the clams from the sand. Small combustion engines power saltwater pumps and are usually located in small boats off shore. The clams are then transported to market. DNR has developed leasing ‘Best Management Practices’ designed to protect important habitat, minimize negative social concerns, and reduce negative impacts on public access.
provides revenue, food products, and regional jobs
Shellfish aquaculture exists today on both private and public tidelands. The Washington aquaculture industry is a major supplier of shellfish throughout the United States and the world, producing more that 23.6 million pounds of shellfish in 2006 at an estimated value of $66.1 million dollars (WDFW farm production estimate). It is the largest employer in Pacific County and the second largest in Mason County, Washington.
The Washington State Legislature has encouraged the development and expansion of shellfish farming and promotes the development of a diverse shellfish farming industry. This is a renewable practice that provides revenue, food products, and regional jobs. Aquaculture lease revenues provide the state dedicated funding for management, protection and restoration of state- owned aquatic lands. For example, potential state revenue for leasing just 30 acres for geoduck aquaculture would generate approximately $370,000 per year, or $1.8 million every 5 years.
With the growth of private geoduck cultivation, universities, state and federal government, the shellfish industry, and independent scientists are researching the ecological impacts of the methods used to cultivate geoduck, and a substantial body of work exists that has resulted in proposed best management practices for the industry. Research is ongoing that will provide new knowledge and potentially alter practices in the future (link to studies and Research Sites) .
DNR has entertained strategies for incorporating research and environmental monitoring into the potential geoduck leases, and is looking for partnering opportunities to help fund and support science relating to geoduck aquaculture. DNR lands can be used to test best management practices and support ongoing research in areas that still needing more research.
Potential concerns regarding geoduck culture
Increased Geoduck Demand
Cumulative effect of shoreline development: Increasing demand for shellfish, and new aquaculture operations, raise concerns about the sustainability of ecosystems that support this use (especially in smaller inlets and bays). It is difficult to interpret the contribution of failing septic systems, bulkheads, removal of native vegetation from the shorelines, etc.., and there are many questions concerning the cumulative effect of all this use on the aquatic ecosystem; how much development is too much before dissolved oxygen, elevated nitrogen, or critically altered intertidal habitat are an issue? There is also potential impacts of hatchery stocks on wild stocks including disease into the natural stocks, competition between cultured geoduck and wild geoduck, and the potential for altered genetics, studies are ongoing.
On the other hand, do filter feeding shellfish counter the negative effects of other shoreline development? Numerous studies to date have provided few concrete conclusions.
DNR’s 30-year old Wild Geoduck Program
geoducks are not farmed and are regeneration by natural means
For 30 years DNR has auctioned harvest rights for specific quantities of wild geoduck in specific Puget Sound “bedland” tracts. The tracts are in 18 to 70 foot deep waters harvested by divers supported by traditional fishing vessels. These geoducks are not farmed and are regeneration by natural means. The wild geoducks are located in deep water, not on tidelands, and are co-managed by DNR, WDFW, and tribal interests. The wild geoduck fishery is completely separate from that of geoduck aquaculture program, mentioned above. Wild Geoduck Program