The Underwater Harvesters Association (UHA) is a non-profit association that was formed in 1981. UHA membership includes licence holders, quota block holders, crew members, and geoduck wholesalers. In Canada, there are 55 geoduck licences, which are broken up as 550 quota blocks. Each quota block has the same amount of geoduck pounds to fish. In the 2020/21 fishing season, each quota block has 5,500 pounds of geoduck to fish.
First Nations continue to invest and increase ownership in the geoduck fishery. There are currently 34 First Nations and a number of First Nation independent fishermen participating in the fishery and holding over 10% of the overall quota.
The UHA’s main objectives are to co-manage the fishery, promote Geoduck from Canada, and enhance geoduck aquaculture. Funding is provided through annual membership fees paid by each license holder. We are regarded as a progressive group with the highest level of commitment to the geoduck resource. We’re also renowned for our foresight and recognized as a Canadian fishery co-management success story. The UHA is a model for the development of other co-managed fisheries.
The UHA started co-managing the industry with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in 1989. Today, our members provide the majority of the funding to manage the fishery and our commitment is considered mutually beneficial to the resource, the industry, and DFO.
The association contracts and funds an independent service provider to implement a geoduck dockside monitoring program that provides DFO with fishery data. This data is critical to effectively manage the resource and DFO requires the UHA to collect it.
The UHA’s co-management program consists of the following activities:
Through our research branch, West Coast Geoduck Research Corporation, we fund biologists and charter vessels to collect and analyze survey and assessment data, conduct geoduck life history research, and implement other programs related to the sustainability of the resource. As well, the UHA pays for extensive PSP (paralytic shellfish poisoning) testing to ensure that only safe product reaches the marketplace.
Our original contract to monitor the fishery was established in 1989 with Archipelago Marine Research Ltd. (www.archipelago.ca). Our agreement has continued to expand over the years. Today, the monitoring program:
Our members also participate in a number of steering committees and advisory groups to assist with management decisions. As well, the UHA is a founding member of the BC Seafood Alliance (www.bcseafoodalliance.com) which represents wild British Columbia’s seafood industries in providing effective leadership, advocacy, and communication in pursuit of a profitable and sustainable seafood industry in BC.
We invested in the geoduck industry’s future by initiating a long-term enhancement program from 1994 to 2015. Through this program, seed (hatchery raised juvenile geoducks) were planted and monitored to augment wild populations and ensure a viable long-term fishery.
Through our fully controlled research subsidiary, the West Coast Geoduck Research Corporation, we ran our internationally recognized enhancement program; the only enhancement program in Canada to be entirely funded by industry. Starting in 2013, we phased out of enhancement activities to focus on geoduck aquaculture.
Aquaculture is the cultivation or rearing of aquatic animals for food, also known as farming. Aquaculture is an important aspect of sustainability; it ensures the geoduck resource is strong for future generations. We obtain our geoduck seed from shellfish hatcheries on Vancouver Island. We then grow the geoduck seed in a floating nursery system. Finally, we plant the seed into the sandy seabed of the planting sites within the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver Island.
We continuously test our preparation, planting, and procedure methods to maximize seed survival rate, and minimize environmental impact. The UHA crew works year-round to care for geoduck seed, maintain grow-out sites, and prepare for future planting.
We started promoting Canadian geoduck in 1999 when marketing became a part of our official mandate.
Since then, our evolving long-term marketing strategy, supported by federal government programs, has guided our strategic initiatives including attending trade shows, hosting promotional events, and conducting market research.
We acknowledge the support and funding from the Government of Canada. Currently, we are in partnership with Agri-Food and Agriculture Canada’s (AAFC) funding program: The Canadian Agricultural Partnership. With the funding provided by AAFC, we have been able to differentiate Geoduck from Canada to improve our competitive position in the market.