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Commercial Geoduck Dive Fisheries


Geoduck clam Panopea generosa fisheries in Alaska occur only in Southeast. Geoduck beds have a patchy habitat specific distribution in the central and southern portions of Southeast Alaska, primarily in protected waters near the outside coast. The highest densities are found in fine to course sand substrates with minimal surge energy. In Southeast Alaska, the highest densities have been observed in the large island groups just west of Craig, including shoreline adjacent to Suemez Island, Baker Island, Lulu Island and Noyes Island. Studies conducted in Washington State, British Columbia and in Southeast Alaska indicate this clam can live to be over 100-years old (Bureau et al. 2003). Southeast Alaska is the extreme northern limit of the geographic range of this species and recruitment is sporadic or very low seasonally. Sporadic recruitment, low growth rates, and high maximum age makes this species susceptible to overharvest.


Starting in 1978 with the Noyes Island survey, state grants were used to find and qualitatively assess commercial beds in the Ketchikan, Craig, Petersburg, Wrangell, and Sitka areas. A number of potential commercial beds were located near Ketchikan, Craig, and Sitka. Procedures for testing and certifying the product for human consumption were established by the ADEC.

Population assessment surveys were conducted on three beds around Noyes Island near Craig, a harvestable biomass estimated, and the ADEC completed sanitation surveys on these areas. Two processors conducted the required modifications to their facilities and procedures to handle batch processing, lot testing, and product quarantine and were certified to process geoducks. In late 1985 the first permit was issued for the commercial harvest of geoduck clams. During the 1985/86 season 143,868 lb of the 300,000 lb, five-year quota (Table 3) were harvested by eight divers in the Noyes Island area.

Increased interest in this fishery began after the department completed a population estimates for Gravina Island, Biorka Island, Kah Shakes and Goddard area between 1989 and 1999. The largest growth in the geoduck fishery occurred between the 2004/05 through 2008/09 seasons due in part to survey funding from Nearshore federal grant money, cooperation from SARDFA reconnaissance, and a logbook program allowing the identification and mapping of new unmapped geoduck beds both within existing fishing areas and new areas being surveyed.

Exvessel value and the number of divers began to increase with the 1992/93 season with increased participation from non-resident divers. Participation fluctuated in the late 1990’s due to decreasing exvessel value with sales of processed product. However, the changes in PSP testing protocol by ADEC prior to the 2003/04 season, which allowed for over 90% percent of the harvested product to be sold live, generated increased effort in the fishery. During the last three seasons 100% of the harvest has been sold as live product.


The objective of geoduck fishery management is to allow only a very low exploitation rate because the species is long-lived and recruitment is sporadic and low both spatially and temporally. Harvests are by permit only and have generally been allowed only from October through May 31, to avoid the summer spawning and recruitment period and to minimize PSP toxin levels. Fishery areas are opened on a rotational basis for management purposes (Please see our fishery area map: Geoduck Fishery Area Map and Rotation List (PDF 1,222 kB) for more information), and areas are assigned to a particular rotation with the objectives to balance spatial opportunities for harvest and provide a similar overall GHL each year. Prior to the January 2000 Board of Fisheries meeting regulations (5 AAC 38.110.) referred to the general harvest of clams; requiring a permit that specifies the species, method of fishing, area of operation, and harvest levels. There were no regulations that specifically addressed the Southeast Alaska geoduck clam fishery. The department, in cooperation with the SARDFA Geoduck Committee, developed regulations and a management plan for the Southeast Alaska commercial fishery. The Alaska Board of Fisheries formally adopted the geoduck management plan (5 AAC 38.142) in 2000. The core elements are:

  1. There are no size limits for geoducks and all geoducks harvested must be retained.
  2. Annual guideline harvest levels must be established for an area before it is open to commercial harvest. The GHL must be based on biomass estimates where biomass surveys have been conducted within the previous 12 years. The GHL is calculated as two percent of the most recent estimated biomass, per year.
  3. Commercial harvest gear is limited to dive gear while using a hand-held, manually operated, water jet device. During the February 2006 Board of Fisheries meeting the geoduck management plan was amended to allow the department to require a harvest logbook from commercial divers.

Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP)

A troubling problem is the tendency for geoduck clams to bioaccumulate undesirable microorganisms or compounds. In particular, high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) have been found in geoducks in Southeast Alaska, most strongly associated with the viscera. The mantle and necks are the usual body parts consumed and PSP concentrations are lower in these parts. Though this situation permits the sale of processed clams with viscera removed, exvessel value for processed clams is significantly less than that for whole, live product. In order to protect consumers, the state requires that each individual fishery be sampled and clams tested by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC).

Previous to the 2003/04 season, the department opened commercial geoduck fisheries in Southeast Alaska with little or no preliminary knowledge of current PSP levels. With pressure from industry, ADEC implemented a live shipment program and preliminary PSP testing was begun during the 2003/04 season which increased the value of the fishery significantly. During the 2003/04 through 2006/07 seasons a significant amount of PSP data was collected by ADEC and changes to the testing protocol were adopted. Further, upwards of 90% of the GHL was shipped live, significantly increasing the value of the fishery.

Fishery Area openings are based on geoducks passing ADEC PSP testing and gives relatively short notice for announcements. As openings for specific areas may be delayed, then opened on short notice, permit holders are required to closely monitor PSP test results which are posted on ADEC’s and SARDFA’s web sites.

Southeast Alaska Dive Fisheries Association (SARDFA)

Reconnaissance surveys within Sea Otter Sound (Port Alice/Cone Bay, Turn Point), Nakat Inlet (Cape Fox, Lord/Sitklan Island), and the Goddard area were conducted by SARDFA and SHDA prior to population assessment surveys by the department. The purpose of the reconnaissance surveys was for industry to identify the most likely sites capable of supporting commercial geoduck fisheries. This data was then given to the department for biomass assessment surveys. The department has also received Federal Nearshore Funds that have been used through industry contracts to complete reconnaissance surveys for potential commercial beds in a substantial portion of Southeast Alaska between 2001 and 2008. The results from these surveys included increased precision of the survey and an increase in biomass with subsequent increase of GHL. Since 1998, new fisheries have been defined by industry reconnaissance and subsequently surveyed by the department most yearly with a current total of 38 defined commercial harvest areas.