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It's last call for geoducks

Shoreline residents along Mutiny Bay and Double Bluff will observe a historic commercial geoduck harvest this fall.

The harvest -- which runs September to November -- is expected to be the last for the Austin and Double Bluff geoduck tracts for decades to come. At the end of the season, commercial geoduck beds off the shores of South Whidbey will be closed until geoduck populations recover.

Divers have been taking thousands of pounds of Washington's largest clam from the area for years. But the industry -- the most regulated fishery in the state -- is closely monitored by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Biologists from Fish and Wildlife say commercial fishermen have taken enough geoducks from South Whidbey.

"It could be as few as 11 years, but the average recovery for a geoduck tract is 39 years," said Bob Sizemore, a Fish and Wildlife biologist and diver.

"The area will be surveyed every six to eight years until stocks recover," Sizemore said.

South Whidbey has historically proved to have productive geoduck hunting grounds. Last year, commercial harvesters dug 553,000 pounds of geoduck from Mutiny Bay and the Double Bluff area.

This is the first time these areas have been closed. According to Sizemore, recovery depends on the number of predators in the area and the dynamics of the habitat.

Statewide, geoduck fishers are allowed to take from 65 to 70 percent of the stock of a given tract.

To prepare for the final open geoduck season on South Whidbey, fishermen bidding for a state license to harvest the giant clams will be off the shores of the island on July 30, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., to test harvest the area.

Last season, 12 commercial contracts were issued for Mutiny Bay and Austin. Ten harvesters were licensed to take up to 48,500 pounds of geoduck, while the other two maxed out at 25,000 pounds this season.

"Statewide to ensure the health of the fishery, no more than 2.7 percent of the total surveyed is harvested in the state or about four million pounds," Sizemore said.

Geoduck fishery began in Washington state in 1970. Known as the funniest or ugliest clam, the record for the largest geoduck is 14 pounds. The oldest known geoducks are more than 165 years old.

The Puget Sound fishery nets millions of dollars for the state of Washington and is considered the most regulated fishery in the state.

Demand for geoduck has grown. The animals are sold in Asian markets for sushi. The first harvest sold for 5 cents a pound. Today they bring from $4 to $6 pound.

Geoducks are found along the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska, but quantities sufficient for commercial harvest are found primarily in the inland waters of Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska.

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