The geoduck industry in Canada is highly committed to maintaining a sustainable and economically viable resource for today and tomorrow.
Geoduck clams are a long-lived species that require careful management and accordingly, under the leadership of the Underwater Harvesters Association (UHA), industry members help define management measures and continuously monitor the resource by conducting research studies and developing new practices to ensure sustainability.
Today, the Canadian geoduck fishery is deemed a sustainable fishery by many of the world’s leading environmental groups and programs that certify and rate the sustainability of seafood. In fact, the Canadian geoduck fishery is publicly recognized and honored as protecting the ecosystem while contributing to the vitality of many communities.
Click here for more information on programs that endorse Canadian geoduck as a sustainable seafood choice.
“They protect the incredible diversity of life that surrounds us and demonstrate it is possible to live within an ecosystem and thrive economically at the same time. [They]… are celebrated for their contributions to creating healthy coastal ecosystems and economies that are vital to our well-being.”
– David Suzuki, David Suzuki Foundation
The UHA has been co-managing the geoduck resource with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) since 1989. The following measures are in place today to ensure responsible and effective resource management with minimal impact on the environment.
For more detailed information on the management of the geoduck fishery, integrated management plans, and fishery openings, click here to visit the Archipelago Marine Research geoduck website.
In Canada, geoducks are harvested using a method proven to have a low impact on the resource and the environment. By harvesting geoducks one at a time with a high pressure water hose that liquefies the sand around the clam, the disturbance to the ocean floor is minimal and there is virtually no by-catch. In fact, independent studies have proven that this method of harvesting has no significant, long-term effects on the structure of the ocean floor, the small organisms that live in the sediment or the plants and animals on the surface of the floor. A summary of this research is found here in this link and in this following article.
The only by-catch in the geoduck fishery is horse clams, which are included in the UHA members’ licenses. At present, there is only one limited directed commercial fishery for horse clams near Comox, British Columbia. Other than that one fishery, there is no directed commercial harvest of horse clams and harvesters only take them when they are harvested incidentally with geoducks. Horse clam landings are on average <1% to 3% of the total geoduck landings.
In 1989 an Individual Vessel Quota (IVQ) system was introduced in the Canadian fishery contributing immensely to the success of the fishery. This new system also marked the introduction of the co-management of the resource between the UHA and DFO. Under the IVQ system, each licence is allotted a share of the annual Total Allowable Catch. Instead of trying to harvest more product faster than anyone else, the fishermen today work closely with their buyers and time their harvest throughout the year to meet demand and address market fluctuations.
Canadian geoduck stocks are managed very conservatively taking into account the geoduck’s long life-span, natural mortality and low recruitment of juveniles to the stocks. The annual Total Allowable Catch or TAC (maximum amount of geoduck permitted for a sustainable harvest that year) is therefore conservative to maintain a sustainable fishery. Accordingly, the TAC for wild geoduck is based on a cautious target exploitation rate of just 1.2 % to 1.8% of the current biomass (population). This target rate is estimated using extensive dive surveys and computer models that test different fishing strategies and incorporate estimates for growth, mortality, recruitment, abundance and potential impacts of harvest methods.
The switch to the IVQ system in 1989 included the requirement for 100% independent monitoring of all geoduck landings in British Columbia. Every geoduck harvested is validated (weighed, counted and inspected) on the same day it is harvested. This validation is completed by an independent company funded by the UHA as a requirement of their licence to harvest received from DFO. The validation company provides daily, monthly and annual reports to DFO as per the Department’s data requirements. In addition, there is an extensive observer at sea program that ensures 90% of the commercial geoduck vessels are directed and observed by an experienced, independent on-grounds monitor who visits the boats daily.
Commercial geoduck harvest locations are divided into Geoduck Management Areas (GMAs). GMAs are open on a one or three year rotational basis. This allows for review and analysis of harvest and research data in order to protect the resource. Each fall, committees comprised of DFO, UHA members, the validation company, and independent scientists meet to review ongoing data collection, research priorities and quota calculations. In addition, certain areas are completely closed for harvesting because they are deemed sensitive habitat areas, provide refuge populations, are important for other species at certain times of the year such as herring spawning areas, or are a part of other research projects.
Prior to opening any area for geoduck fishing, extensive water quality and bio-toxin testing takes place to ensure that the product is harvested from pristine and safe waters. The Canadian government identifies safe shellfish harvest areas via the Environment Canada Marine Water Quality Monitoring Section (click here for more information). Once an area is approved, the UHA works with government agencies to complete ongoing systematic sampling programs for all geoduck harvest areas prior to openings. Samples are tested to ensure the product is safe for human consumption. All Geoduck from Canada meet the stringent requirements of the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (click here for more information).
In 1994 the UHA started enhancing geoduck populations to ensure the long term success of the fishery. Today, research continues to further develop and refine enhancement technology.
The UHA develops an annual science workplan with DFO. The UHA works with contractors, independent observers and the expertise and local knowledge of its members to provide the data required by DFO to manage the fishery. Geoduck research follows DFO protocol and is completed by the UHA’s subsidiary, West Coast Geoduck Research Corporation, a corporation with a passionate commitment to conduct all research necessary to ensure a sustainable fishery.
The UHA became actively involved in geoduck and horse clam research in 1994, realizing that government agencies did not have all of the funds, equipment or staff to conduct the research necessary to ensure a safe and sustainable fishery. Accurate calculations of annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) require accurate estimates of geoduck density, geoduck bed area (commercial geoduck habitat), and geoduck average weight for each region fished in British Columbia. The UHA therefore hired a consultant biologist to co-ordinate the industry’s science and research efforts.
Today, UHA members and consultants design and implement the following research projects in co-operation with DFO and First Nations in British Columbia through the UHA’s West Coast Geoduck Research Corporation. To ensure the most comprehensive collection of data and expert analysis, the most knowledgeable people are brought together with a common goal of sustainability. Active research partners include UHA members (owners, skippers, divers, buyers), UHA biologists, DFO scientists, independent third party biologists and First Nation groups in British Columbia.
The UHA has been actively surveying geoduck beds (commercial geoduck fishing locations) annually since 1994 to estimate the population biomass (number of geoducks) in different regions of British Columbia. There are over 4,000 geoduck beds on the coast of BC and over 70% of these beds have been surveyed. Many of these beds (25%) have been surveyed multiple times in order to confirm that harvest rates are sustainable. Data collected from these surveys provides the density and area information required to determine the annual Total Allowable Catch (maximum amount of geoduck permitted for a sustainable harvest that year) and to ensure a sustainable resource.
During each density survey, divers work in pairs, counting geoducks one metre on either side of transects (lead lines) randomly placed on the ocean floor within geoduck beds and record their observations on waterproof data sheets clipped to their metre sticks. The results of each survey are analyzed and reviewed by DFO and the UHA to ensure that only the target harvest rate of 1.2% to 1.8% of the current biomass is harvested annually.
The UHA and DFO cooperatively developed techniques to accurately map the location of geoduck beds (commercial geoduck fishing locations) with remote sensing equipment. This data refines the area estimates of commercial geoduck beds required for calculating the TAC. Hydroacoustics (echo sounders) are used to survey areas from the surface and then software predicts the type of substrate under the vessel. These substrate predictions are then correlated with fishing and survey information in order to map geoduck beds.
A number of biological samples of geoduck clams are collected each year and submitted to DFO in order to estimate life history parameters such as age, growth rates, average size, recruitment rates, and mortality rates. Accurate estimates of these parameters are required to estimate sustainable harvest rates. Thousands of geoducks have been collected and sampled by the UHA.
Between 1990 and 1992, the UHA and DFO established three research sites which are closed to commercial fishing and reserved to study the impact of fishing on geoduck populations. These plots are permanently marked underwater on the west and east coasts of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. A UHA biologist and experienced divers, in collaboration with DFO, conduct the necessary surveys and maintenance of the research plots. These sites provide information on geoduck recruitment, mortality, growth, population trends, efficiency of harvest and the influence of conservative and aggressive exploitation rates on these parameters.
The UHA worked with DFO and other industry partners to complete a large scale investigation of the potential effects of commercial geoduck harvesting on the ocean floor and surrounding sensitive habitats like eelgrass meadows. These studies indicate that the commercial geoduck harvest has no significant, long-term effects on the structure of the ocean floor, the small organisms that live in the sediment or the plants and animals on the surface of the floor. Click here for the summary of this research.
The geoduck show factor is defined as the proportion of the geoduck population visible to survey divers and fishermen at a given time. A good estimate of proportion geoduck showing is key to the accuracy of geoduck biomass surveys in British Columbia. Researchers need an estimate of the proportion of geoducks visible to survey divers. Show factor research is used to establish the best time of year, weather and tides to complete geoduck surveys.
To ensure the long-term viability of the fishery, the UHA started enhancing geoduck populations in 1994 and continues to commit both the funds and effort to this priority program. To date, the UHA’s West Coast Geoduck Research Corporation has planted over seven million seed (hatchery reared juvenile geoducks) with 250,000 to 700,000 seed planted each year since 1997. As the only enhancement program in Canada that is entirely funded by industry, the UHA enhancement program has gained international recognition.
The objective of the UHA’s enhancement/seeding program is to consistently plant one million seed each year. Survival rates have varied at each of the planting sites and further research and experimentation is required to increase survival. To date, average survival rates after planting are less than 15%.
The enhancement program was initiated solely by industry as the UHA members believed it was important to develop and refine enhancement technology. Even though the existing fishery was not over exploiting geoduck stocks, research studies had proven the benefits of an enhancement program to the resource overall. For example, geoduck larvae and juveniles are subject to significant mortalities in the wild, but it had been proven that culturing would increase their survival significantly. Enhancing stocks also contributes to the spawning biomass, thereby increasing the overall amount of clams available for harvest.
The UHA initially obtained geoduck seed from a hatchery on Vancouver Island, British Columbia and the first planting trials were completed by hand using relatively small numbers of seed. At that same time, industry initiated research and development, with support from the Province of British Columbia, to build a seeding machine capable of mechanically planting seed on a commercial scale.
At this time, the UHA and a geoduck aquaculture company, Fan Seafoods, jointly fund a floating hatchery on Vancouver Island, British Columbia which is operated by Seed Science Ltd. The geoduck seed produced are first increased in size in a floating nursery system and then are planted into the sandy substrate of the planting sites, all of which are within the Strait of Georgia on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Different site preparation methods, planting methods, planting devices, protective materials and overall procedures are continuously tested and refined to maximize seed survival rate and also minimize the impact on the environment. There are three people employed to take care of the seed, plant the seed and prepare for the next planting season. They manage the enhancement program throughout the entire year and are out on the water tending to enhancement operations every day, weather permitting.
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