China Stops Imports of West Coast Shellfish

By Tom Bacon

An entire Washington State industry is on the verge of calamity because of sudden and unexpected ban on its products by China. China last week suspended imports of shellfish from the US west coast, thereby shutting down one of the biggest export markets for Northwest companies.

The ban includes clams, oysters and all other two-shell bivalves, including geoduck clams which are wildly popular in China and bring huge prices. The Chinese government found that recent shipments of geoduck clams either from Washington or Alaska were tainted with arsenic or a toxin which causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.

An inspector for the Washington State Department of Health was baffled by the broad and sudden ban.
He said China has never done such a thing - that is, cut off all shellfish from the entire west coast based on clams from small areas. The hardest blow could fall on firms which raise or harvest the big geoduck clams. In Washington State, they're concentrated in Puget Sound, where about 7-million pounds of the odd-looking creatures are harvested each year.

The US exported about 68-million dollars of geoducks last year, with 90 percent of the harvest going to China, where retail prices range from a hundred to a hundred fifty dollars a pound. This is the peak demand period, too - the time leading up to the Chinese new year which falls on January 31st next year.

Harvesters can do nothing in the meantime but wait for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials to negotiate a new agreement with the Chinese government.
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