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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

China Bans Shellfish Imports From US West Coast

A Seattle grocer displays live geoducks in June 2003. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

A Seattle grocer displays live geoducks in June 2003. Geoduck farmers on the West Coast export most of their harvest to China, where the clam is considered a delicacy. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

China has banned all shellfish from the U.S. Northwest, from Northern California to Alaska, after Chinese officials found two shipments of geoduck clams were contaminated.

Chinese officials say the clams contained high levels of arsenic and a toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. Geoducks (pronounced “gooey ducks”) are the world’s largest burrowing clams. They can live for more than 100 years and reach weights of more than 10 pounds.

A geoduck farm near Puget Sound's Totten Inlet between Shelton and Olympia. (KUOW)

A geoduck farm near Puget Sound’s Totten Inlet between Shelton and Olympia. (KUOW)

Geoduck are considered a delicacy in China where they sell for about $100 per pound. They are also very popular for the Chinese New Year Celebration, which will fall on Jan. 31.

The U.S. shellfish industry exports more than $500 million in seafood each year, a third of which goes to China.

“So when that door gets shut, that’s a big customer to be lost and geoduck are a big part of that market,” Ashley Ahearn of KUOW’s Earthfix tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. Ahearn was part of the reporting team that broke the story.

China reported that the shipments came from Ketchikan Alaska and Renton Washington in early October, but the Washington Department of Health has reported no signs of unsafe toxins in any of the tests they ran in that time period.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stopped issuing certifications for the region in late November. State officials are for NOAA to come to an agreement about how to move forward and reopen the shellfish trade.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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