SEATTLE – Washington state health officials Tuesday said their arsenic testing has confirmed that geoduck clams harvested from a bay in Puget Sound are safe to eat, following toxicity concerns that prompted China to ban imports of West Coast shellfish.
Officials hope the results will help persuade China to lift a ban it imposed last month on the import of clams, oysters, mussels and scallops harvested from Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Northern California.
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.
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. Chinese officials also cited high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning in a shipment of geoducks from southeast Alaska.
Alaska state officials said their testing did not turn up high levels of PSP in the geoducks harvested in Alaska that were flagged by Chinese officials.
Washington state and federal agencies do not routinely test for arsenic in Puget Sound, but officials noted that a study in Poverty Bay in 2007 did not find arsenic levels that were a health concern.
Even so, state officials last month closed commercial clam harvesting on 135 acres of state-owned aquatic land in Poverty Bay as a precaution and voluntarily tested for inorganic arsenic.
“We hope that this will help bring an end to the ban,” spokesman Donn Moyer said. “The government of China will make its decision on criteria that we don’t have insight into.”
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman said officials forwarded the results to the Chinese government.