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Geoduck: the new face of NZ seafood?

Saturday 30 Mar 2013 6:06 p.m.

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Most New Zealanders have probably never heard of a geoduck (pronounced "gooey duck"), but the saltwater clam could soon be worth almost $1 billion to the country's export industry.

It's being touted as the next face of New Zealand seafood, but the shellfish isn't exactly good looking.

Geoduck is a seafood delicacy overseas, and the strange-looking clams come with a hefty price tag.

"Probably the biggest [market] one would be Asia, especially China, where you can achieve up to $300 per individual clam," says Andrea Alfaro of the AUT aquaculture biotechnology group. "So that's an incredible market."

It's a market New Zealand is hoping to break into. The geoduck, also known as the aptly named "elephant trunk clam", is mostly found off the Pacific Coast of the United States and Canada. But there's also an established population at Golden Bay in the South Island, and aquaculture experts want to develop the species for an international market.

"Geoducks are not found everywhere," says Ms Alfaro. "There are few countries in the world that have them naturally. We happen to have a good species here. It's very flexible. We've been able to cultivate it without many difficulties, and the thing is because there is an established market that only a few countries have access to. New Zealand is placed in a very good position."

The Cawthron Institute in Nelson has been successfully cultivating geoducks by taking adults from the wild and growing their babies in hatcheries.

"The female adults release eggs," says Nick King, Cawthron Institute aquaculture scientist. "The males release sperm and we collect that, fertilise the eggs, and 24 hours later we have little baby geoducks. And they are in that phase for three weeks, and then after that they grow to an adult geoduck."

The goal is to find a farming option that can harvest large volumes of geoduck for market. And Mr King is optimistic.

"The kind of ambitions that we have is for New Zealand to have an industry worth millions of dollars in 20 to 30 years," says Mr King.

Lawrence Leow sells the clam at his Live Fish restaurant on Auckland's Viaduct. He say's it's popular with Asian customers, but only the most adventurous of Kiwis give it a try.

"So far we've never had one person that has sent it back," says Mr Leow. "They pretty much clean up the whole dish!"

Traditionally, the neck is cut and the shell removed. Once the skin is peeled off the siphon, the meat can be eaten raw like an oyster or sautéed, battered and stir-fried.

"The meat, the texture is between a pipi and an abalone," says Mr Leow.

In the US, the geoduck market is worth $80 million a year. Experts here are confident the New Zealand market could do that many times over.

"I do think the geoduck might be our next poster child for New Zealand seafood," says Ms Alfaro. "I think we have a really good chance of marketing that as an iconic New Zealand species."

Unfortunately, it doesn't look as good as it tastes.

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