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Researchers See Limited Environmental Impact From Puget Sound Shellfish Farming

October 23, 2015

A new study suggests that Puget Sound shellfish producers could expand some of their operations without significantly affecting the environment.

Researchers undertook the study to determine what would happen if more areas along Puget Sound were devoted to the farming of giant geoduck clams.

Rising demand from China is driving the push to expand Puget Sound aquaculture. Some residents are opposed to increased shellfish farming.

Geoduck Squirting

The siphon of a clam operates much like a snorkel -- it’s the lifeline -- water and food particles are pumped in and later expelled through the outgoing siphon. Credit: Katie Campbell KCTS9/EarthFix

One of the concerns is how thousands of farmed clams, which feed on phytoplankton — would affect the food web. The study found those impacts would not be significant until geoduck farming increased by 120 percent.

Much of the impact would come from farming gear, like nets and P-V-C pipes. Researchers say salmon, eagles and great blue herons could be negatively effected.

The study funded by the Washington Legislature. It was conducted by scientists from from the University of Washington and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and published in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea’s Journal of Marine Science.

According to University of Washington News and Information, it is "one of the findings of the first major scientific study to examine the broad, long-term ecosystem effects of geoduck aquaculture in Puget Sound."

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A geoduck clam from Puget Sound. China's ban on importing such shellfish remains in place, but recent U.S.-China talks have led to plans for a new testing protocol to ensure food safety.

Katie Campbell