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Puget Sound Treasure: Washington Tribes Turn Clams into Cash in Asian Market

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Tribes surrounding Puget Sound dive into deep waters and plow the marine floors for geoducks–the world’s largest clams, which bury their long necks in the sand, and are considered a delicacy in Asia, according to the Wall Street Journal. The estuary claims nature’s largest colonies of the massive shellfish, which can reach 14 pounds each, according to the Department of Natural Resources, reported Seattle Pi.

Reverse time by 40 years, and the giant, burying clams were practically unheard of beyond the Northwest, reported the Smithsonian. In 2009, Puget Sound fishermen sold four million pounds of this mollusk annually, the Smithsonian reported. In the U.S. alone, prices have hit a high of $15 a pound, the Journal stated this month.

Thus far in 2011, Puget Sound divers have hauled in over $2 million worth of deep-sea gourmet-worthy shellfish, the Journal reported on February 3. The rich and chewy delicacies were expected to sell for millions more for the Chinese Lunar, a 15-day celebration that began with the full moon on February 3 this year, according to

Indian tribes hold exclusive treaty rights to half of Puget Sound's commercial shellfish harvests, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Puget Sound Treaty Indian Tribes, including the Suquamish, Skokomish, Lummi, Quileute, Tulalip and Puyallup, amongst others, took advantage of the trans-Pacific trade that skyrocketed for the grand celebration of the Year of the Rabbit, reported the Journal.

“Here’s a $50 clam,” Robin Jordan, general manager of Suquamish Seafoods Enterprise, told the Journal, while holding a fresh-from-the-ocean water, five-pound geoduck—the mollusk’s name is derived from the Nisqually Indian gweduc, which means "dig deep," reported the Smithsonian.

Jordan estimated the single clam would be distributed among one hundred separate servings at a Chinese New Year celebration, perhaps as a sashimi appetizer at a major banquet, for which a caterer would easily charge $1,000, Jordan told the Journal.The Suquamish Tribe now counts the large clams as a $6 million a year business, according to the Journal.

To net the highest value, clams must meet rigid guidelines both aesthetically with their long white necks and objectively, weighing a minimum of one-and-a-half pounds, reported the Smithsonian. The top priority: they must be delivered live—a process which involves bubble wrap, boxes and gel ice packets. Shipments board planes, generally to Singapore or Hong Kong, and arrive in less than three days, according to the Smithsonian.