On Friday, China banned imports of all shellfish from the U.S. West Coast, citing elevated levels of arsenic and a natural toxin in geoduck clams that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.
The ban applies to all bi-valves, including oysters, mussels and clams, along the U.S. Pacific coast Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California. In Washington alone, that’s a $270 million industry. Of the $68 million worth of geoducks (pronounced “gooey ducks”) exported last year, most came from Washington and about 90 percent of those were exported to China, where they sell for $100 to $150 per pound.
The ban came after a notice in late November that all geoducks and other double-shell aquatic animals from Area 67 (the Pacific coast from northern Alaska to northern California) would be tested and that 50 percent of the harvest from other areas would be tested. Negotiations to reopen the shellfish trade are ongoing between China’s government and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and are expected to take months.
The exact source of the shellfish hasn’t yet been determined, but they are believed to have been harvested in either Alaska or Washington. Until the location is determined, China is refusing any and all shellfish from the U.S. Pacific coast. Jerry Borchert at the Washington Department of Health, says such a broad ban is unusual. There is speculation the broad ban, which excludes Canada, may be retaliation for U.S. overflights in its newly-declared air defense zone over the East China Sea.