Assessing geoduck aquaculture policies

Toward Sustainable Geoduck Aquaculture Management in Puget Sound: Assessing Policy and Social Dimensions

Researchers analyzed geoduck aquaculture policies and the associated stakeholder interests to answer concerns regarding the recent aquaculture expansion.

Principal Investigator

Clare Ryan, University of Washington, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, Program on the Environment

Co-Principal Investigator

P. Sean McDonald, University of Washington, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences


Geoduck clam aquaculture is economically promising in Puget Sound but scientifically, socially, and politically challenging. As intertidal aquaculture expands, many concerns have arisen about the potential impacts of farming practices on nearshore ecosystems. This project analyzed geoducks aquaculture’s policy and social dimensions, informing the development of frameworks for resolving conflicts between stakeholders. These findings could be integrated with ecological studies to provide a more holistic understanding of Washington’s geoduck aquaculture management issues.

Research Updates

Washington Sea Grant-supported research used the Keystone Project to engage students in exploring social and policy dimensions of commercial geoduck culture operations. With federal and state managers as clients, a four-member team examined public perceptions, conducting a situation assessment that provided a comprehensive overview of the current climate surrounding geoduck aquaculture in South Puget Sound. The team conducted interviews with stakeholders, including state, federal and tribal resource managers, geoduck growers and homeowners. It also analyzed recent state decisions on aquaculture permits and reviewed applicable policy literature.

Culminating in a peer-reviewed article, the Keystone Project revealed a high level of conflict and challenges for managers. It also demonstrated effective synergy between academic and research needs, allowing completion of a complex Washington Sea Grant social science project at a very low cost. By embedding the Keystone Project within the broader research scope, students became engaged in the science firsthand and gained critical research, writing, project management and communication skills. The approach appeared to offer a cost-effective research model with strong educational benefits that will be encouraged in future requests for proposals.

“Avoiding a Clam Calamity”

“Unless you have social understanding and acceptance of your activities, it can be difficult to move forward with them,” Clare Ryan told writer Niall Dunne in a piece that appeared in Washington Sea Grant’s Summer 2017 Sea Star. The first step toward acceptance among different user groups is often learning more about each other’s differences.

Read more about this research—including the differences in opinion among different stakeholders, and where the user groups begin to find common ground—as it is explained to a general audience in the article here.

Geoduck farms use netting to keep their gear in place.