Representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will travel to Beijing on Friday to discuss the ongoing Chinese import ban on geoduck and other bivalve shellfish from most of the West Coast.
Chinese authorities detected inorganic arsenic in a November shipment of geoducks from Poverty Bay in Puget Sound. That shipment, and another from Ketchikan, Alaska, that was tainted with algae toxin, led China on Dec. 3 to ban all imports of bivalve shellfish harvested in the area, wreaking havoc on the Pacific Northwest geoduck industry.
After months of back and forth between the NOAA, the federal agency leading the investigation into the ban, and China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), Chinese officials have agreed to meet with Tim Hansen, director of NOAA’s seafood-inspection program.
NOAA is coordinating with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Foreign Agricultural Service officials in Beijing in preparation for the meeting, which will take place Friday.
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Agency spokeswoman Connie Barclay said NOAA hopes to identify China’s remaining concerns about shellfish imports from the U.S., as well as determine what additional actions may need to be considered to respond to those concerns.
In January, state officials tested the arsenic levels in Poverty Bay and sent the results to Chinese officials, who in return asked to send an audit team to the U.S. to check how seafood is tested here, but after months of exchanging letters, the two countries have decided on this face-to-face conversation in Beijing.
Bill Dewey, spokesman for Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Mason County, one of the largest geoduck providers in the state, said he hopes an in-person conversation will improve the understanding between the two countries, and at least result in reducing the ban to the two implicated harvest areas — Poverty Bay and Middle Gravina Island in Alaska.
Because the geoduck farm does not harvest in wild areas such as Poverty Bay, Taylor would be able to return to business as usual if the ban areas were reduced.
“It would take care of the problem 100 percent for us, so we’ve got our fingers crossed,” Dewey said.
Despite the initial slowdown in the Washington geoduck industry due to the Chinese ban, local geoduck farmers, including Taylor Shellfish, and state and tribal harvesters, have been able to find markets in other Asian countries.
According to NOAA, exports of live, fresh geoduck to Vietnam went from 26,056 pounds in January 2013 to 681,812 pounds this January. Hong Kong saw 285,673 pounds in January 2013, compared with 154,595 pounds for this January. Only 5,393 pounds arrived in China directly from the U.S. this January, down from 233,525 pounds in January 2013.
Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @coralgarnick