With Asian economy back on its feet, Alaskan geoduck clam fishery set to reopen

China imposed a five month ban on geoducks from Alaska in December of 2013 out of concerns for PSP toxins. (Photo courtesy of KRBD and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game)
(Photo courtesy of KRBD and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game)

Southeast Alaska dive fishermen will get back to harvesting clams this week.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Tuesday that the geoduck fishery would resume now that Asian demand is returning.

“Some of the markets over in China are starting to reopen, and of course China is our final market for geoducks that are harvested here in Southeast,” Phil Doherty, co-executive director of the Southeast Alaska Dive Fisheries Association, told KRBD Tuesday.

RELATED: Coronavirus shutters Southeast Alaska geoduck clam fishery

Geoduck fishermen were among the first Alaskans to feel the effects of the coronavirus. That’s because market demand in China fell off a cliff as authorities ordered lockdowns.

A coalition of commercial fishermen recommended closing the fishery in late January. It’s remained closed ever since.

But as demand rebounds, Doherty says divers are ready to test the market.

“It’s not as big of a market as it was before [COVID-19] hit us all, so we’ll see. We are not anticipating very good prices, maybe somewhere between $3 and $4 a pound, which is not really the best prices we’ve ever seen,” he said.

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Normal prices for geoduck fishermen usually range between $5 and $10 a pound.

“But the divers felt we needed to at least give it a chance with a small harvest,” Doherty said.

He says that while Chinese demand is recovering, the coronavirus is now complicating matters on this side of the Pacific. Flight cutbacks in response to a pandemic-fueled drop in demand mean shipping could take an extra day or two.

And Doherty says that could mean lower prices for fishermen.

“Since the geoducks are sold as a live animal in the restaurants and in the markets, any delay in getting them to market, you have a little bit more mortality within the geoducks themselves,” he said, “and the more mortality you have, the less you get paid.”

Doherty says he’ll be watching prices as the fishery reopens. Fishermen will first get to work in Nakat Inlet, about 40 miles south of Ketchikan. The state has set a harvest limit of 800 pounds of geoducks per permit holder.