The Story Behind Nature's Most Curious Clam
Love our Smoked Geoduck? When you're finished reading through our latest blog post here, you might find yourself eager to hear the story behind all of the fish you eat. And to that we would say, "it's possible!" With so many options to buy direct from your local fisherman, we invite you to learn.
But meanwhile, enjoy this journey—from catch to can!
There are only a handful of geoduck fisheries across the Pacific Northwest (only a few are actually wild harvest) and almost all of it is transported overseas. So when a local dive fisherman asked us to custom process a small portion of his catch, we realized this curious clam would quickly become a cult favorite of Wildfish fans—and the only product of its kind around.
Meet our local diver, Curtis Brown. Smoked Geoduck was our first non-salmon product, born out of an idea from Curtis himself when he was interested in home-packing (custom processing for home consumption) the part of his harvest that was undervalued at market. And when those who are doing the heavy lifting ask, we answer!
Speaking of heavy lifting, we can't leave out the right hand of every diver—their deckhand, usually another local fisherman like Ryan Jones (below.) In dive fisheries like ours, there are no corporate or processor-owned vessels, so divers who don't run their own boats work with a locals like Ryan Jones (below) in order to harvest each season's geoduck.
Many of the local geoduck deckhands are salmon fishermen in the summer, and temporarily convert their small, family-owned vessels in order to participate in different fisheries in the winter. Diver and deckhand then travel to the geoduck harvesting grounds, located just a few hours from the harbor.
The first permit was issued for the commercial harvest of geoduck clams in Alaska in 1985, and only 8 divers participated in the fishery that year. Today, commercial interest in the geoduck fishery has grown only slightly, so folks like Curtis and Ryan are still part of a small group of divers and harvesters participating in the fishery.
This commercial harvest is limited to dive gear and a hand-held, manually-operated water jet device to gently remove the geoducks from the ocean floor. Here Curtis jumps from the bow of Ryan's boat, the F/V Virga, to the sea floor.
Imagine 90 minutes below the surface of the frigid winter ocean, your mobility further limited by the weight of your suit and harvesting tools. Your lifeline (literally in the form of an oxygen hose) rises above the surface and is tended by your deckhand. While on the ocean floor, Curtis uses a hose to loosen the geoduck from the sea floor. The geoduck are placed in a net by the diver's side and hoisted up on deck when harvesting is complete.
The geoduck are then transported live to a shore-based processor, where the geoduck are sorted by grade.
Nearly all of the geoduck are shipped live to overseas markets, but the geoduck with cracked shells cannot survive the journey. This is where Wildfish Cannery comes in! We purchase the geoduck with the imperfect shells, in turn helping fishermen maintain the value of all of the geoduck they catch.
Onshore, the geoduck reach Wildfish Cannery and the laborious process of cleaning each one by hand begins. If you're a clam lover, you know it's nearly impossible to get every bit of sand from the neck. Now think of the size of a geoduck's neck (yes, we know...that's a lot of neck.)
To produce a batch we begin by butterfly filleting the geoduck. This is followed by brining and smoking. Below, resident canner Greg Scaletta (left) and his son and Wildfish Cannery Owner Mathew Scaletta (right) inspect the geoduck after smoking.
We’re still operating out of our original, small facility, and it’s our mission to produce the best quality, domestically-produced tinned seafood using the tools and traditions that have been passed down from our original founder.
After smoking, we hand-cut beautiful large bites and artfully arrange the pieces you see when you open each can. The final stage in the process is pressure cooking. Geoduck is a labor of love, more so than any other product we produce. But when we open a can and taste a piece, we know it's been worth it.
This Godfather of our Culinary Curiosities collection is also one of our favorite ingredients to experiment with in the Wildfish Cannery test kitchen. We recommend introducing yourself to this local delicacy first as a simple cracker-topper—or just digging in with your bare hands. Once you've become properly acquainted, let Smoke geoduck be the star of your next sea-cuterie board spread, or whip up any of the simple recipes in our Galley, including a variety of Smoked Geoduck pasta dishes, a classic giant clam chowder, or our favorite Geoduck Bloody Caesar.
This recipe for Linguine with Smoked Geoduck and Fennel balances the crisp woodsmoke flavor of our geoduck with mildly sweet aromatics. The dish has a nice perfume from not only the fennel, but also raisins, pine nuts and white wine—it almost has a candy-like quality.
We're proud to be a true craft producer—and Smoked Geoduck is a real test of that craft—but mostly we're pretty proud to create products like Smoked Geoduck because it translates to more value for our hard-working fishermen, and honors lesser-known, underutilized species of seafood.