China will lift its ban on imports of geoduck clams and other shellfish from the West Coast, according to a statement from Washington Congressman Derek Kilmer.
“The lifting of this ban is great news for shellfish growers and businesses in our region,” Kilmer said Friday in a statement. “China is a key export market for our region’s shellfish and this news means greater economic stability for the workers and families in our region.”
In December, China issued the first ever ban on all shipments of shellfish harvested on the coast from the waters of Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Northern California. That followed China's determination that a shipment of geoduck clams from Washington showed unsafe levels of inorganic arsenic and another from Alaska showed similarly high levels of the toxin causing paralytic shellfish poisoning.
Chinese officials sent a letter Friday to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration advising the federal agency the ban would be lifted. The letter stated Chinese officials were satisfied with NOAA's proposed plans for new monitoring and testing requirements for paralytic shellfish poisoning and inorganic arsenic, which would meet China's food safety requirements.
China's ban sparked questions over how shellfish should be inspected before export. The portions of the clam showing levels of the toxins beyond China's standards are not typically eaten in the U.S. but are in China. The U.S. has no standards for arsenic in shellfish.
The ban also put a brief economic strain on a major Northwest industry. The shellfish industry is worth $270 million in Washington state. The U.S. exported $68 million worth of geoduck clams along in 2012 — most of which came from Puget Sound. Nearly 90 percent of that went to China.
“I appreciate the hard work of the State Departments of Health and Natural Resources, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Foreign Agricultural Service and U.S. Trade Representative, for all they’ve done to respond to this case and for effectively communicating to our international trading partners that our seafood is safe and healthy for their consumers," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said. "I also want to thank the staff in my D.C. office for working diligently on bringing resolution to this issue.”
Despite the ban, Washington growers had been shipping shellfish to Asia, with the two main destinations being Hong Kong and Vietnam. NOAA officials will work with federal and state food safety and health officials and the shellfish industry to implement the new requirements, which must be done before trade with China can resume. China still plans to send a team of food safety officials to the U.S. this fall to further discuss the issue and evaluate U.S. monitoring and testing plans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report