China has closed its doors to all imports of West coast shellfish. Chinese officials tested samples of geoduck clams and found elevated levels of arsenic and a toxin that causes Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning.
U.S. officials believe the contaminated clams were harvested in Washington or Alaska. Right now they’re waiting to hear back from Chinese officials for more details that will help them identify the exact source. But until further notice, China’s not accepting any shellfish harvested from California to Alaska. Jerry Borchert is in charge of monitoring toxins in shellfish for the Washington Department of Health. He says China’s actions are unusual.
Borchert: “They’ve never done anything like that that I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here where they would not allow shellfish from this entire area based on potentially two areas or maybe just one area, we don’t really know yet.”
Last year the U.S. exported more than half a billion dollars worth of shellfish - with China as its biggest customer. The shellfish industry in Washington is worth 270 million dollars annually. Bill Dewey is with Taylor Shellfish, the largest shellfish supplier in Washington. He says China’s move is having an impact.
Dewey: “I was just talking to our geoduck manager and he’s got two harvest crews and three beach crews essentially doing makework. He’s too nice a guy to lay them off during the holidays but there’s only so much you can be charitable about making work for people.
There’s no telling when China will lift its import ban, but shellfish on the market in the U.S. are safe to eat. Officials say the investigation is ongoing.
Copyright 2013 KUOW