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Coronavirus outbreak in China impacting Washington state shellfish industry

Seattle Shellfish farms geoduck, a burrowing clam native to the northwest but popular in China. But since the COVID-19 outbreak, sales have plummeted.

SHELTON, Wash. — The spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in China is causing serious problems for geoduck producers in the Pacific Northwest. 

 Seattle Shellfish specializes in farming geoduck, which is a burrowing clam native to the northwest. China is a huge market for the clam, or at least it was prior to the coronavirus outbreak prompting quarantines.

January is usually the shellfish company's busiest time of year. President and founder of the company, Jim Gibbons, said 85% of their geoduck head to China, but since January 23 they haven't sent any.

"We'd been shipping 4,000 to 6,000 pounds a day, and they called and canceled the entire week," explained Gibbons. "How are we going to survive?" 

The timing was especially difficult - lunar new year is their busiest time.

Gibbons is trying to keep the company afloat by cutting costs and laying off about half his employees.

"Hardest thing I ever had to do at the company," said Gibbons. "Some people had been with us 15 years, and we're hoping to hire them all back." 

But he is worried those employees will move on to other jobs. 

Gibbons said other geoduck producers in the region are dealing with the same thing. 

"Oh, there's no geoduck being shipped out of the state of Washington right now into China. All producers are kind of shut," Gibbons explained. 

There's no telling how long the quarantines in China could last, so it's unknown when geoduck production will be back to normal. The good news, Gibbons said, is that geoducks will continue to grow if left in place, so they won't lose any.

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