Geoduck, Anyone? This Is How You Harvest the Giant Clam

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The geoduck—a bizarre yet edible mollusk that populates the waters of the Pacific Northwest—looks more like a gag gift you’d purchase at Spencer’s than the focus of an $80 million industry. But according to chefs, the fleshy, long-necked clam works well on a dinner plate, thanks to its salty flavor and meaty texture, and is frequently served up in the Seattle restaurant scene. It’s also prized in Asia, where according to Aubudon magazine, geoduck (pronounced "gooey-duck") can fetch up to $100 apiece.

How does the world’s largest burrowing clam make its way from Puget Sound to plate? In a post over at Serious Eats, workers at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Washington, demonstrate, step-by-step, the tricky process of geoduck farming.  

First, divers harvest wild geoducks from the water. They use spray hoses to excavate the clams, which are often buried several feet deep in muck. The geoducks are then transported to a hatchery, loaded up with nutritious, high-fat algae, placed in warm water, and left to reproduce.

The geoducks release clouds of sperm and eggs, which join together to form zygotes. Eventually, these zygotes develop tiny shells and feet. This entire process, says Modern Farmer, takes about a month.

Eventually, the baby geoducks, or “seed,” need to burrow into the sand. But before they’re ready to hit the beach, the little guys have to grow a bit larger. Back to the water the geoducks go; they’re transported to a floating raft, dumped into containers of sand, and left dangling in the water from anywhere for a few months to a few years.

Once the geoducks reach a suitable size— about one-half an inch to an inch— they’re “planted” on the beach. However, since the young, developing geoducks are potentially vulnerable to crabs, diving ducks, and other predators, farmers make sure to stick a section of mesh-covered PVC pipe into the sand to protect the "seeds" as they grow.

The geoducks make themselves at home, burrowing down into the sand until they’re large enough to make do without the PVC pipe. About six years later, the clams have reached a stupendous three feet in length, at which point, it’s time for harvest.

Recreational geoduck hunters might dig down into the sand with a shovel to uncover a stubbornly-burrowed clam. However, professional farmers make their jobs a little easier by using diesel-powered water pumps, which help dislodge geoducks from the sand with their powerful spray.

It takes more than half a decade, a little patience, and lot of elbow grease. But the final product—a 1 1/2 to two-pound clam that’s ready to be shipped off to China, sliced into sashimi at a nearby seafood restaurant, or gawked at by tourists at the local fish market—is worth the effort to anyone who's ever indulged in the deliciously briny, meaty creature. 

[h/t: Serious Eats