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, or the small organisms, plants, and animals that live in the sediment on the surface of the floor. You can see the research summary in this 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. Aside from this 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 overall geoduck 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, Archipelago Marine Research, but is fully funded by the UHA as a requirement of each harvest licence. Archipelago 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 or research areas, or because they are important for other species at certain times of the year such as herring spawning areas.
Prior to opening any area for geoduck fishing, extensive water quality and bio-toxin testing take 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). The UHA funds all PSP sampling and shipping of product to the CFIA lab.