Health officials begin testing shellfish samples after China ban

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- Washington State health officials began testing shellfish samples from Poverty Bay on Thursday after seafood inspectors in China said earlier this month they found high levels of arsenic in geoduck clams.

Those finding prompted them to ban all shellfish exports from the west coast.

The suspension is now hitting our state hard - geoduck farmers, tribal harvesters and the state are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each week.

"Everybody's had to tighten their belt loops and hope for a quick resolution, and it's getting very painful for some of us," said Lief Crofield, who is employed by Taylor Shellfish Farms.

Crofield and his crew members from the Eagle Scout boat harvested 900 pounds of geoduck on Thursday - a quota that's much lower than what they typically bring in.

"There's so many little things that need to be done and we just can't afford to them right now. We're all in limbo," said Crofield.

Chinese officials said they found high levels of arsenic and paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, in recent shipments from Alaska and Washington.

"As far as having the whole west coast shutdown, it does seem a bit heavy-handed, especially considering that it was two isolated incidents," said Crofield.

Chinese officials said the tainted clam from Poverty Bay tested high for arsenic.

Washington State Department of Health technicians are now testing 36 shellfish samples from that area. State health officials did spot testing there six years ago to look for arsenic and there were no concerns at the time.

Meanwhile, concerns are mounting for seafood suppliers. Taylor Shellfish Farms, which was not responsible for the bad clams, was supposed to export 40 to 50 thousand pounds of geoduck this month to China and at least 5,000 dozen oysters. They're expected to lose more than a million dollars per month if the ban continues.

"As this goes on things become more and more bleak and more and more people are talking about leaving their jobs that they love," said Crofield. "I love what I do and I know that my guys love what they do and it really would be a shame if we had to shut it all down."

The ban comes at the worst time for harvesters because the Chinese New Year is next month and there's always demand for the geoduck.