Coastal Tribes Scoring Export Win With Geoducks

Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine is featuring Tribes in the Puget Sound area that have successfully captured export markets in China and elsewhere with a unique product: the massive Geoduck clam. This unusual natural resource has become highly profitable due to growing consumer demand in Asia, and effective management and marketing by coastal Tribes has created a flourishing multi-million dollar industry. 

Foster Pepper Native American Group attorneys Greg Guedel and Ron Whitener are quoted in the article, which discusses the treaties and court decisions that affirmed Tribes' rights to Geoducks and other marine resources in their traditional lands. After solidifying their legal rights, Tribes that harvest Geoducks implemented strong monitoring and environmental protection for key marine areas, helping ensure the vitality and sustainability of this industry. With Geoduck habitat confined to the Northwest coast and a small area in California, Puget Sound Tribes are shaping the growth of this beneficial industry from a dominant market position.

Northwest Tribes Break Open China's Markets -- With Geoducks

(Point No Point Treaty Council)

While the US battles a staggering trade imbalance with China, and many American companies encounter significant difficulty breaking into China’s domestic markets, numerous Tribes in Washington state are scoring an impressive export win with an unusual product: the massive Geoduck clam. Considered a delicacy in China and many regions of Asia, the Geoduck is a natural resident of Northwest coastal waters and is currently fetching a dockside price of $15 per pound. Members of coastal Tribes such as the Squaxin Island, Suquamish, Skokomish, Lummi, Quileute, Tulalip, and Puyallup are reaping thousands of dollars from a few hours’ work underwater, hoisting this international delicacy from the waters of Puget Sound.

Geoducks, which are known for their rich flavor and chewy texture, are featured as sushi or sashimi, sautéed like razor clams, fried, or made into chowder. Individual Geoducks sell in specialty Asian supermarkets in the U.S. for $20 to $30 a pound, but can go for upwards of $50 per pound in Asia. Geoducks are now a $6 million a year business for the Suquamish Tribe alone. The giant clam's harvest financed the Tribe's seafood processing plant, and provided collateral for loans backing other ventures like buying a golf course and expanding the Tribe's casino.

To guard against over-fishing, the coastal Tribes negotiate a quota. The Suquamish are allowed around 500,000 pounds this year based on 19th-century treaty rights. To thwart poachers, Tribal police patrol in speedboats.

The Tribes' trade with China has become so strong that "being their own exporters, that's the next ticket for the Tribes," says Tony Forsman, shellfish and wildlife policy analyst at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. "Demand's been growing from China and if the Tribes could pool and coordinate product, they could demand a higher and steadier price."