SUQUAMISH — The lifeblood of the Suquamish Tribe’s seafood business can be found deep under the mud of Puget Sound.
divers harvest nearly 500,000 pounds of burrowing geoducks each year.
The giant clams, popular in Asia, represent 99 percent of business for
the tribe’s Suquamish Seafoods LLC. But that’s about to change.
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16,000-square-foot processing plant under construction off Sandy Hook
Road will give the company flexibility to package and market a host of
other marine species, including oysters, manila clams, crab and salmon.
Suquamish Seafoods General Manager Tony Forsman expects geoduck to
account for about 40 percent of the company’s business 10 years from
Expanding product lines should open new opportunities for
harvesters while bringing in millions of dollars in new revenue, he
“The tribe has been wanting to diversify for quite a long time,” Forsman said.
of the long-planned $2 million processing plant began over the summer.
The facility will replace the aging 2,000-square-foot building Suquamish
Seafoods used to pack geoducks.
Contractor PHC Construction will wrap
up work in March, in time for the start of the 2015 harvest season.
two-story building will house an array of processing equipment. Live
tanks fed with fresh water from Agate Passage will keep harvested marine
life fresh while it’s in holding. New chilled storage and processing
rooms will give the company space to increase production. Air blast
freezers will freeze shellfish solid in a matter of minutes. Eventually,
other equipment like fish smokers and clam sorters could add value to
the tribe’s harvested products.
The tribe is still considering how
best to take advantage the new facility, Forsman said. Tribal fishermen
began a crab harvest this year. Next will likely be a foray into
cultured (farmed) oysters, which Forsman said could be grown on the
tribe’s existing tidelands, and an expansion of the tribe’s clam seeding
program. Cultured geoducks are also a possibility, though that proposal
“There are some issues there the tribe has to reconcile,” Forsman said.
form the expansion takes, Forsman said the new plant will allow
Suquamish Seafoods to work with more harvesters and even buy product
from other tribes.
Suquamish’s tribally-chartered seafood business
is a rarity among Western Washington tribes. In the case of geoducks,
most tribes divide their harvest quota between divers. Suquamish manages
its entire quota and shares revenue among its divers. Suquamish
Seafoods uses the volume of the combined harvest to negotiate higher
prices for geoducks and provide a consistent, year-round supply for
“It’s a win for us and the buyers,” Forsman said.
now, nearly all those buyers are in China. By diversifying its
business, Forsman believes Suquamish Seafoods will tap into new markets
and work with more local customers. There is even discussion of opening a
retail seafood market to sell directly to the public.
For now, Forsman is content to watch the metal framework for the new processing plant take shape off Sandy Hook Road.
“It feels good to see it go vertical,” Forsman said.
Suquamish Seafoods is online at www.suquamishseafoods.com.