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Geoduck divers face double whammy: Tariffs and ‘devastating’ coronavirus

While lots of people are feeling frightened or inconvenienced by the novel coronavirus, at least one group is also financially devastated: geoduck divers. They normally sell the huge, iconic bivalves as a luxury export item, primarily for customers in China. Not right now. 

Suquamish Seafoods in Poulsbo is a standalone business on the Suquamish reservation. There’s a retail counter there where you can get local seafood. And the business maintains a fleet of boats.

General manager Tony Forsman says he employs about 25 support staff to keep the company running and 25 contract divers, who harvest wild geoduck. It's normally a lucrative business. But they've been hit hard — and not just by the novel coronavirus, which pretty much eliminated their export market. Trump administration policies in a trade war with China dealt the first blow.

“They suffered a 30 percent reduction in income last year because of the tariffs. And now this just on top of them is really very difficult,” Forsman said. “We’re doing everything we can to help see this through.”

He says he assumes we will eventually get the virus under control and the markets will recover. He's working to get low-interest loans to keep his divers going. And he says the good news is that, unlike salmon, geoduck will still be there if it needs to be harvested later, although some negotiation with the state may be needed, to adjust quotas.

Forsman says it’s actually pretty normal to be slow right now, after the Lunar New Year. But they didn’t have the normal rush in February to provide a cushion.

“It’s devastating. Divers are out of work. We’re just maintaining minimum operations here. We still have our oyster and clam business that we’re operating. But, geoduck’s the bread and butter — that’s just not happening right now.”

He says they’re also working on creating more of a local market for geoduck and aiming to expand their other seafood lines. But many companies are, so now is not the best timing.

Anyone who wants to help can “buy more geoduck,” Forsmans says. He recommends sautéing it in butter and oil, or enjoying it raw.   

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