As the area continues to endure alarming news about the spread of COVID-19 and its effect on Seattle life, there’s one impact that may have flown under the radar: geoduck exports to China. Sales of the large clam known as a quintessential Pacific Northwest delicacy — and perhaps a mystery to outsiders — have slowed to a crawl. That is due to mainly to new restrictions on Chinese trade from the coronavirus fallout, affecting several Washington state businesses. Local publication Crosscut reports that Seattle Shellfish saw a major downturn right around the Lunar New Year on January 23, when geoduck exports to China completely stopped. That was particularly bad timing, since sales usually spike around the holiday, and the industry was already hurting because of Chinese tariffs implemented by the Trump administration. Geoduck exports compose roughly 85 percent of Seattle Shellfish’s revenue, and most of that is demand from China.
But that wasn’t the only company experiencing an economic impact. Well-known local bivalve purveyors Taylor Shellfish Farms had to temporarily lay off 40 people, cut salaries, and halt 401K benefits due to the export issues. Taylor Shellfish’s director of public affairs Bill Dewey tells Eater Seattle that the company has lost roughly $1 million in revenue per month because of the crisis. But Taylor Shellfish hopes to eventually bring some of the laid off workers back, as the sales team works aggressively to find new markets for geoduck, which makes up around 50 percent of its exports. “Our company has been impacted for sure,” he says.
Diners at local restaurants may not notice much of a difference on menus, but some places in the International District are cutting back on geoduck orders, says Dewey. The hope is that domestic sales may make up the difference eventually, and Taylor Shellfish may be in position to ride things out a little more smoothly, since a good portion of its business consists of other shellfish varieties. But smaller companies like Seattle Shellfish that rely on geoduck to keep them afloat could be in serious trouble.