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Chinese ban on U.S. shellfish to continue, letter says

A grocer displays live geoduck clams in Seattle. (Associated Press)
A grocer displays live geoduck clams in Seattle. (Associated Press)

BREMERTON – The Chinese ban of shellfish imports from the U.S. West Coast will continue indefinitely, according to a letter sent by Chinese officials to a U.S. agency.

The letter dated Jan. 23 was sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and raises new question about U.S. health standards for shellfish, the Kitsap Sun reported Saturday.

The letter dashes hopes of shellfish harvesters in Washington who had hoped the ban would be lifted quickly after U.S. representatives submitted new information about safety standards along with test results that showed geoducks were safe.

China’s import ban is creating a hardship for the state’s shellfish industry. Geoducks are highly prized large burrowing clams that can fetch up to $50 a pound in Asian markets. The U.S. exported $68 million worth of geoduck clams in 2012, mostly from Washington.

The letter from China clarifies the testing procedure used by Chinese authorities who found high levels of paralytic shellfish poison in geoducks harvested in Alaska. PSP, a neurotoxin produced by a type of plankton, can accumulate in shellfish.

The letter also asserts that a failure of Washington state officials to routinely test geoducks for arsenic “shows defects on regulating and monitoring the safety and hygiene for geoduck export to China.”

China’s ban was based in part on shipment of geoducks traced to Poverty Bay, near Federal Way, that the country said tested above its standard for inorganic arsenic.

Later sampling and testing by the Washington State Department of Health concluded that arsenic levels were safe – even according to Chinese standards. The tests did reveal elevated levels of arsenic in the skin of the giant clams, which health officials said was typically discarded.

More information is needed before the Chinese government will consider lifting the import ban, perhaps keeping it in effect for a localized region, according to the letter. The Chinese official proposed sending an “expert team” to the U.S. to evaluate the regulatory system and negotiate an agreement for inspection, compliance and information exchange.



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