Geoduck Aquaculture

planted geoducks

What is Aquaculture?

Geoduck aquaculture is farming on tidelands to cultivate large geoduck clams. The clams are planted as seed and grown out from 5 to 7 years until they are large enough to be sold commercially. Geoduck clams are a prized delicacy, particularly in Asia, where they retail for more than $125/pound.
Geoduck farming occurs on about 200 acres of privately-owned tidelands throughout Puget Sound.
Geoduck aquaculture is not the same as the wild stock geoduck fishery, which involves harvesting naturally occurring clams in the subtidal zone between -18 and -70 feet. Learn more about DNR’s wild stock geoduck fishery.

Does Geoduck Aquaculture occur on state-owned aquatic lands?

No. However, DNR is moving forward with a small pilot leasing project to assess whether geoduck aquaculture will be a sustainable and viable activity on state-owned aquatic lands.

What is the purpose of the pilot project?

In response to requests from geoduck harvesters and growers, the 2003 Washington State Legislature directed DNR to develop a pilot project proposal to study the feasibility of geoduck aquaculture on the state-owned tidelands and submerged lands that DNR manages.
Before launching a new aquaculture program, we need to better understand the effects of geoduck aquaculture on the nearshore environment. Establishing a small pilot study on limited acreage is a first step. During the pilot study, DNR and partners will conduct extensive monitoring and research at the sites.

What is the status of DNR’s pilot Geoduck Aquaculture Leasing Project?

In August 2013, DNR announced plans to initiate a small pilot program to allow geoduck aquaculture on about 22-1/2 acres of state-owned aquatic lands in Hood Canal and southern Puget Sound.

When will the lessees begin farming geoducks?

Before DNR will grant authorizations to potential lessees to conduct geoduck aquaculture operations on state-owned aquatic lands, the following processes must take place:
  • Each site must undergo public review through the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requirements.
  • Lessees must obtain the following:
    • US Army Corps of Engineers Title 401 permit
    • Certifications from Washington State Department of Health
    • County conditional use permits (plus any other shoreline master program requirements)
  • Proposed sites will undergo thorough review when obtaining the required permits, providing ample opportunity for site assessment, information sharing, and comment from stakeholders and interested parties.
  • DNR accepts or denies application for a use authorization.

Where will the leasing sites be located?

At this time, DNR is working with potential lessees in 4 counties: Mason, Jefferson, Pierce and Thurston. Details of these leases are still in discussion, but each of the potential leased sites will range in size from ½ to 4 acres.
The sites were located based on the following physical criteria:
  • No adjacent residential development.
  • High-banked beach.
  • Low natural shellfish and eelgrass densities.
  • Low recreation and tribal shellfish use.
  • At least 200 feet from any wild geoduck tracts.
  • Good probability of being approved for commercial aquaculture by the Washington State Department of Health.

Who will be leasing and growing geoducks on state-owned aquatic lands?

In 2006, DNR issued a “Request for Offers” to determine who would meet the requirements to lease state-owned aquatic lands. Seven commercial growers were offered lease sites in 2006-2007, following a formal bid process. Key factors in selecting lessees included the company’s:
  • Proposed management structure.
  • Experience in geoduck aquaculture.
  • Plans for neighborhood outreach.
  • Plans for public access at the site.
  • Proposed site preparation, planting, maintenance and harvest methods.
  • Plan for monitoring debris and onsite and offsite clean ups.
  • Plan for minimizing visual impacts of the materials used to grow the geoducks.
  • Plan to minimize potential harm to the environment.

What kind of monitoring and research will take place?

Research and monitoring will be carried out over an entire geoduck culture cycle—a 5- to 7-year timeline from hatchery to harvest. Under the terms of the lease, lessees will grant access to researchers to conduct experiments. Some of the data to be collected includes:
  • Sediment composition and changes that occur due to geoduck aquaculture.
  • Food and nutrient concentrations.
  • Water quality characteristics.
  • Eelgrass and macro algae.
  • Conditions of and modifications to the water column. Eelgrass density, distribution, morphology and indicators of vigor (brown broken leaves, epiphyte load).
  • Kelp species, percent cover and distribution.
  • Changes in substrate characteristics and beach morphology.
  • Effects of the aquaculture on aquatic animals that live in and on the substrate, including salmon prey species, and on fish and mobile crustaceans.

What other significant, related initiatives have occurred to date?

In 2007, the Washington State Legislature directed the University of Washington’s Sea Grant Program to establish a geoduck aquaculture program to review existing scientific information and commission scientific research to assess the possible effects of geoduck aquaculture on the environment. Sea Grant  published its final study in late November 2013.
In 2010, DNR conducting an online “forum” to encourage a public dialog about geoduck aquaculture on state-owned aquatic lands.
View a timeline of events related to the geoduck aquaculture pilot study.

How will a Geoduck Aquaculture program benefit the people of Washington state?

If research shows that geoduck aquaculture is a viable and environmentally sustainable activity on state-owned aquatic lands, then revenues from the leasing of geoduck sites would go into DNR’s Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account (ALEA). The ALEA funds provide for public access and protecting the natural ecological functions of aquatic lands in Washington State.

Does DNR provide lease opportunities for other kinds of Aquaculture?

DNR leases deep water sites for finfish net pens and floating shellfish rafts and longlines. Salmon aquaculture operations have existed in Washington since the 1970s and are scattered throughout Puget Sound. Current net pen leases include salmon aquaculture, delayed-release salmon, and herring. The use of floating shellfish culture began in 1975 with mussel raft culture in Penn Cove. Current floating shellfish culture on rafts or longlines include oysters, mussels, and scallops.

How do I  Lease State Aquatic Lands?

Aquaculture leases for state aquatic lands are handled by DNR’s Aquatics Districts. Application materials, general leasing information, and answers to specific questions can be addressed by contacting the appropriate District Region Office.

What about Tribal Shellfish Sharing?

Treaties signed with western Washington Indian Tribes in 1854 and 1855 reserved the right for tribes to harvest fish and shellfish from all usual and accustomed fishing areas in common with citizens of Washington. In 1994, Judge Edward Rafeedie upheld the right of Treaty Indian tribes, or their successors in interest, to harvest up to 50 percent of the harvestable surplus of shellfish from natural shellfish beds. To implement the ruling, a procedure for notification of tribes about DNR aquaculture leases and potential harvest agreements on state lands was formalized in an implementation plan.