Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg
Food

Follow the World’s Most NSFW Seafood From Mud to Plate

The geoduck (pronounced “gooey-duck”) may not be pretty to look at—in fact, its floppy shape is decidedly grotesque—but in terms of luxury seafood, it can cost more per pound than abalone. With a crisp texture and a briny, sweet, almost nutty taste, it’s especially coveted by Chinese consumers, who import almost all of Taylor Shellfish Farms’ 1 million-pound annual haul. Here, we track the squirting bivalves from their muddy hatchery near Seattle to a sashimi platter in Hong Kong.

  1. Geoduck Larva
    1

    Geoduck Larva

    The young geoduck has been growing in a tray at Taylor Shellfish Farms hatchery in Quilcene, Wash., a two-hour drive west of Seattle. When the larvae are ready to be implanted in the sand, the shells are about a half-inch long and the siphon extends another half-inch or so (retracted, or several inches when extended to the surface).

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  2. Scientific Controls
    2

    Scientific Controls

    Joan Hendricks, lead technician at the Quilcene hatchery, examines geoduck larvae with a microscope.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  3. Small Beginnings
    3

    Small Beginnings

    Geoduck larvae seen through a microscope. Geoducks are the largest type of burrowing clam native to North America and are especially popular in Washington state, British Columbia, and East Asia.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  4. Sand Tray
    4

    Sand Tray

    Geoducks grow in a tray with sand in the hatchery before being transplanted outside. It takes an average of six years after planting to grow to 1.5 to 2 pounds, the geoduck market’s sweet spot.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  5. Algae Tanks
    5

    Algae Tanks

    Large tanks hold algae for feeding the geoducks. The different colors are various species of algae or varying densities of cultures, a half-dozen or so species to meet the dietary requirements of each larval stage of the animals reared in the hatchery.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  6. Quack Quack
    6

    Quack Quack

    A bit of silliness in the hatchery offices.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  7. Floating Facility
    7

    Floating Facility

    Employees sort and count geoducks while standing on a floating growing facility. Here, larvae from the hatchery will be allowed to mature in bins of sand before being planted in the tidal beach, anywhere from three to 12 months later (sometimes as long as two years).

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  8. Sorting
    8

    Sorting

    Employees sort geoducks ready for transfer to a beach for planting. Taylor Shellfish Farms employs about 45 full-time workers in its geoduck department, with an additional 15 hired seasonally, although harvests occur year-round.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  9. Natural Predators
    9

    Natural Predators

    A crab holds on to a baby geoduck. Just like the adults, the young bivalves can’t contain all their meat inside their shells, so they’re an easy taste treat.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  10. Ready to Plant
    10

    Ready to Plant

    Employees carry a tray of sand, mud, and geoducks. Taylor Shellfish Farms operates approximately 110 different geoduck sites that range in size from half an acre to 14 acres. Beaches with a low tidal elevation and deep sand make the best planting grounds.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  11. Digging Deep
    11

    Digging Deep

    After identifying the tip of a geoduck siphon, or an oval hole where the siphon has retracted, a worker reaches shoulder-deep into the mud in search of a geoduck to harvest. Individual harvesters average about 700 pounds (about 450 clams) on a typical day.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  12. Tube Planting
    12

    Tube Planting

    Workers plant geoducks into mesh tubes on the beach. The tubes are used to protect the young geoduck seed from such predators as crabs and fish. After a few years, they’ve burrowed down about 3 feet deep in the sediment and are beyond the reach of most predators. At that point the mesh tubes are removed and reused for another planting.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  13. Siphons
    13

    Siphons

    Young geoducks poke out from the sand and mud in a growing tray. Their siphon has two ports; one sucks water in and across its gills to extract food and oxygen, while the other expels waste. Geoducks can filter up to 120 liters (about 32 gallons) of water per day.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  14. Harvesting
    14

    Harvesting

    An employee pulls a geoduck from the sand during a harvest. A water jet (the metal tube he’s holding) softens the sand around the geoduck until it’s fluid enough to easily pull out the geoduck without damage.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  15. Rinsing the Harvest
    15

    Rinsing the Harvest

    An employee rinses a crate of geoducks in preparation for packaging and shipping. Taylor Shellfish Farms will harvest roughly 1 million pounds (about 700,000 clams) this year, with a typical day filling orders of around 3,800 pounds (about 2,500 clams).

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  16. NSFW
    16

    NSFW

    An adult geoduck squirts water from its siphons. Wild geoducks are graded primarily by color—white neck and shell being the highest grade (1) and dark brown/black shell being the lowest (3-4). Although the meat, when the skin is peeled off, is usually a fairly similar creamy white color across grades. Farmed geoducks are more often graded by size, with a higher meat-to-shell proportion (meat yield) the larger they are.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  17. Packed for Shipment
    17

    Packed for Shipment

    An employee packages geoducks for shipment. Top-grade geoduck sells for about $23 to $25 a pound, while the lower grades go for $8 to $10.

    Photographer: David Ryder/Bloomberg

  18. Hong Kong Restaurant
    18

    Hong Kong Restaurant

    Employees of Taylor Shellfish Farms carry a box of geoducks at the company resturant in Tai Hang, Hong Kong, which is open to the public. Geoducks in Asia are prized for their premium price and as aphrodisiacs.

    Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

  19. Shellfish Display
    19

    Shellfish Display

    Geoduck and assorted shellfish at the company restaurant. Like all food sold at restaurants, geoduck is usually marked up two to three times, so an individual 2-lb. top-grade clam might sell for $100 to $150.

    Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

  20. Removing the Skin
    20

    Removing the Skin

    After removing the shell, a chef prepares a geoduck by peeling the skin off, which is then discarded. (The shells can make nice soap dishes.)

    Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

  21. Geoduck Preparation
    21

    Geoduck Preparation

    A chef slices a geoduck. No special tools are required to prepare one: Cut it out of its shell with a knife, then dip it in hot water for about eight seconds to release the skin from the siphon.

    Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

  22. Geoduck Sashimi
    22

    Geoduck Sashimi

    A chef plates the prepared geoduck. In the Pacific Northwest, people will grind them to make fritters, chop them for chowder, or pan-fry them—or make delicious ceviche and sashimi. In China (which is the primary market), hot pot is the way to go.

    Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

  23. Ready to Eat
    23

    Ready to Eat

    Plated geoduck sashimi is ready to be served. At sushi bars, it’s called mirugai, or “giant clam.” The taste is described as sweet and briny, with a clean, tactile snap—the ultimate ocean ingredient.

    Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg