Fished from the ocean floor around Vancouver Island, then sent straight to the lucrative Chinese market, B.C.’s geoduck industry has come a long way since the early 1980’s when it was shipped frozen by boat.
“It was really low value then and now it’s entirely sold live to market and sold to China. About 90 per cent of our product is sold to China,” said James Austin, President of the Underwater Harvesters Association.
Chinese consumers love west coast geoducks because of the pristine waters they grow in and in 2019 the industry was worth over $50 million to the BC economy.
However that all changed when COVID-19 appeared in China.
“We’re looking at about a 40 per cent to 50 per cent reduction in price,” said Austin. “And for production, we could have done 10,000 pounds a day, now we’re doing a few hundred pounds a day.”
They continue to serve some smaller Canadian markets in Vancouver and Toronto but the problem with the Chinese market is twofold. The economy there is hurting because of the virus so demand is down and fresh geoduck which is normally flown to China every day can’t get to market.
“Everything is combined. We have minimal flights that are going from Vancouver to China right now, sometimes through Taipei or Hong Kong but it’s been cut down from what was two or three flights a day to once a week,” added Austin.
The industry endured a five-month downturn during the SARS outbreak in 2003, but already the feeling is the effects of COVID-19 could be felt for even longer.
The BC spot prawn fishery opens in May so it could be affected as well, along with any other fishery that exports to China.
The geoduck (pronounced “gooey duck”) is a large clam native to the west coast of North America. Unlike the giant clam, which is almost all shell, the geoduck has a small shell compared to the soft part of its body, which it cannot retract into the shell.