SHELLFISHING -- Seattle Times outdoor writer Mark Yuasa dove head-first into the sport of goeduck harvesting last week.
Read for insight on the technique his friends have developed for gathering the heavyweight of Pacific Northwest clams.
By Mark Yuasa
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — Seeking a geoduck is downright dirty business.
You’ll need to just about bury yourself headfirst into mucky sand and seawater to get to the deep dwellers of Puget Sound.
Last weekend, we took our geoduck (pronounced goo-e-duck) excursion during one of the more extreme low tides this season.
Maybe it was coincidence, but a few days before our trip I got an email from Susan Gibson, director of development for Pie Town Productions in North Hollywood, Calif., inquiring about the giant clams.
For those who don’t know, Pie Town has created popular shows including “Chef vs. City” on the Food Network and “House Hunters” on HGTV.
“We are desperately seeking geoduck fishermen,” Gibson told me over the phone.
I told Gibson I’d be willing to film our adventure, although the friends we go with are very secretive about the location. And the technique we use isn’t the old-school method of digging the geoduck up with a shovel.
Our clamming gear consists of a large steel cylinder, wood planks, a golf cart, rusting shovels and plastic buckets.
We headed out two hours before low tide about half a mile onto the sandy flats. Then we began looking for “shows,” the beige tip of a geoduck’s neck poking out of the sand.
Anthony Mizumori of Olympia immediately found six shows and marked them.
Then came the hard work.
First, we shoveled carefully around the geoduck’s neck, which quickly disappeared into the sand.
The big myth is that the adult geoduck digs down to escape when pursued. The retraction of the long neck fools one into thinking the clam is escaping. A burrowed geoduck’s siphon can stretch about 39 inches into the sea bed.
With the custom-made cylinder that resembled a hollowed-out garbage can, we started to shove it into the sand around the show. The cylinder wall surrounds the clam and prevents wet sand and water from collapsing inward.
Once the cylinder was almost completely buried, we started scooping sand out of the interior with our buckets.
We dug down 3 to 4 feet, and then I went headfirst into the cylinder to feel around for the shell, and slowly pried it loose. This took a few minutes and felt like an eternity, but after slowly massaging it free, I hoisted up a geoduck that weighed about two pounds.
On average it took us 20 to 30 minutes to get each geoduck, and we ended up digging six (a daily limit is three per person) before we burned out from exhaustion.
On our way home, I realized we nailed the video Gibson had been long pursuing, and that it could lead us to geoduck stardom under the bright lights of Hollywood.
But that’s not the point.
Just give me a dish of soy sauce, lemon and a plate of thinly sliced fresh geoduck, and I’m happy as a clam at high tide.
The geoduck is one of the oldest and most impressive clams. It can weigh up to 10 pounds and live as long as 140 years. Its name originated from a Native American word meaning “to dig deep.”
While the big bivalve won’t win any beauty contest, it is by far one of the most tastiest clams in the shellfish kingdom.
Geoducks reside along the West Coast as far south as Baja California, but harvestable numbers are found only in Puget Sound-Hood Canal, British Columbia and southeast Alaska.
Puget Sound’s bays and estuaries host the highest density in the United States.
Biomass estimates taken in 1998 showed 159,200,000 pounds of geoducks inhabited Puget Sound. The recreational harvest is minimal, with an annual harvest of 4,000 or 5,000 pounds.