Status of geoduck clam fisheries in Mexico.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Clam fisheries (Surveys)
Authors: Aragon-Noriega, Eugenio Alberto
Alcantara-Razo, Edgar
Calderon-Aguilera, Luis Eduardo
Sanchez-Fourcade, Raul
Pub Date: 08/01/2012
Publication: Name: Journal of Shellfish Research Publisher: National Shellfisheries Association, Inc. Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences; Zoology and wildlife conservation Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 National Shellfisheries Association, Inc. ISSN: 0730-8000
Issue: Date: August, 2012 Source Volume: 31 Source Issue: 3
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Mexico Geographic Code: 1MEX Mexico
Accession Number: 303011396
Full Text: ABSTRACT There are 2 species of geoduck fished commercially in northwest Mexico: Panopea generosa, along the Pacific coast of the Baja California peninsula, and Panopea Globosa, in the Gulf of California and in Bahia Magdalena. This study describes the status of the geoduck clam fishery in northwestern Mexico. Recent surveys suggest an ample distribution of beds along both coasts of Baja California and the coast of Sonora. Landings have increased from 49 mt in 2002 to 2,000 mt in 2011. The fishery has a current annual value of approximately US$30 million, and in Sonora, stock assessments estimate the potential yield to be around 1,800 mt. Fishers in Sonora have expressed an increasing interest to enter into the geoduck fishery, and a total of 1,173,898 pieces have been authorized for new extraction in 2012. We have conducted surveys in 24 beds from February 2009 to October 2011 to evaluate the resource. Given the long life cycles of geoduck, low recruitment and high fishing rates threaten the viability of this resource unless immediate management actions are taken.

KEY WORDS: geoduck, Panopea spp., Mexico, fisheries


Geoduck clams of the genus Panopea (Menard, 1807) have been fished in the northeastern Pacific since the early 1970s. The geoduck Panopea has a worldwide antitropical distribution, and 3 species are found in the North Pacific: Panopea japonica (Adams, 1850) off the coasts of China, Japan, and Korea; Panopea generosa (Gould 1850, referred to incorrectly as the fossil species Panopea abrupta Conrad 1849; see Vadopalas et al. (2010) to connect the 2 names explicitly) from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico; and Panopea globosa (Dall, 1898), which was supposed to be endemic to the Gulf of California, Mexico (Fig. 1). However, Leyva-Valencia (2012), based on morphometric and taxonomic analyses and also providing genetic evidence, showed that P. globosa is found in Bahia Magdalena, located on the southern Pacific coast of the Baja California peninsula. Controversy about the taxonomic position of Mexican geoduck species was recently resolved genetically by Rocha-Olivares et al. (2010), who established that 2 species are captured along the Baja California peninsula--P, globosa in the Gulf of California and P. generosa along the Pacific coast--but accurate distribution limits for both species are still pending.

Geoducks are large infaunal bivalves that burrow 0.6-1 m into sediment at water depths ranging from the intertidal to 110 m. These clams are famous for their extreme longevity, reaching a record 168 y in age (Bureau et al. 2002). Geoduck shells reach more than 25 cm, and the siphon may exceed 1 m in length (Goodwin & Pease 1987).

In sharp contrast to the extensive amount of published and unpublished research on P. generosa from Canada and the United States (see Straus et al. (2008) for a review), scientific information on the Mexican populations of Panopea spp. has only begun to be produced. Basic biological studies regarding patterns of distribution and abundance, age, growth, reproduction, population structure, and morphological and genetic variation are urgently needed to assess the dynamics and connectivity of these populations subject to fishing. The research needed must encompass both species, P. generosa and P. globosa, and the results should be analyzed comparatively to identify relevant biological differences leading to their recognition as distinct fishing units. Notably, only 4 publications are available on the basic biology of P. globosa in Mexico (Aragon-Noriega et al. 2007, Arambula-Pujol et al. 2008, Calderon-Aguilera et al. 2010b, Cortez-Lucero et al. 2011): 3 from Bahia de Guaymas-Empalme, Sonora (Central Gulf of California) and 1 from the Upper Gulf of California (Calderon-Aguilera et al. 2010b). The first effort addresses the morphometric variation and reproductive biology of samples collected during 2004 and 2005, featuring a predominance of large clams, and documents peak spawning between January and February (winter) during a time of low sea surface temperature (18[degrees]C) (Aragon-Noriega et al. 2007). The second effort is a complementary report focusing on reproductive aspects of the same sample collections, but elaborating on a comparative analysis that includes the reproductive cycles of P. generosa from Canada and Panopea zelandica from New Zealand (Arambula-Pujol et al. 2008). The third article deals with the apparent synchrony between larval development and the peak in primary productivity in the Upper Gulf of California, as predicted by Cushing's (1982) match--mismatch hypothesis. Through time series analysis, was shown that gametogenic development of P. globosa is triggered by a steep decrease in temperature (Calderon Aguilera et al. 2010b). The fourth and most recent article deals with the age and growth of P. globosa (Cortez-Lucero et al. 2011). In that paper, Cortez-Lucero et al. (2011) estimate the asymptotic length to be less than the 130 mm via the von Bertalanffy model.


In the northeastern Pacific, the Pacific geoduck clam (P. generosa) fishery began during the 1970s off the coast of Washington and, 5 y later, in British Columbia. Since then, and until 2004, nearly all of the world's supply of this highly valued product originated from that area (Orensanz et al. 2004). Since the early 2000s, Mexico has contributed increasingly to the Northeast Pacific geoduck fishery. By 2006, the yearly catch was around 1,200 mt, which is on par with that from the neighboring United States and Canada. However, unlike the monospecific catches of those countries, the geoduck fishery in Mexico is sustained by P. generosa from the east coast of Baja California, and P. globosa (Fig. 2) from the Gulf of California and Bahia Magdalena, but has been managed indistinctively. The fishery has attracted considerable and increased interest given the high demand for the resource and its profitability. For instance, from 2006 to 2009, the combined harvest from both coasts of the Baja California peninsula was more than 1,200 mt/y, but in 2010 and 2011, landings were more than 2,000 rot, which was much more than those from Canada and the United States (Fig. 3). Geoduck distribution is known to be limited to 3 states in northwestern Mexico. The leading state in terms of catches is Baja California, followed by Sonora and Baja California Sur (BCS). These 2 latter states started recording catches in 2009, and increased similarly in total volume from 2002 to 2011 (Table 1). In BCS, the geoduck bed explored is located inside Bahia Magdalena on the Pacific coast. Another issue with the BCS geoduck fishery is the proper taxonomic position of the species. Rocha-Olivares et al. (2010) mentioned only that the presence of P. globosa on the Pacific coast of Baja California needs scientific corroboration. Perez-Valencia (2011) proposed that the geoduck species in BCS could be P. globosa, but did not possess sufficient data to validate the hypothesis, whereas Leyva-Valencia (2012) assured that P. globosa is found in Bahia Magdalena. In Figure 1, we divided the area into 3 regions: the Upper Gulf western region (UGC-W), the Upper Gulf eastern region (UGC-E), and Central Gulf of California region (CGC). The UGC-W has been harvested since 2002, starting with 13 mt, but this total catch has increased exponentially to 1,050 t in 2011. The UGC-E and CGC fisheries began in 2009; however, the area of harvested beds in the CGC is much larger than in the UGC-E.





Pressed by an increasing demand for geoduck clams in the Asian market, a silent but vigorously growing fishery started in Sonora, mainly in CGC rather than in UGC-E. Meanwhile, a geoduck commercial fishery was also developing in Baja California. The Mexican fisheries authorities (SAGARPA-CONAPESCA) have officially published a management plan for these species, as required by law (SAGARPA 2012). The authorities have tried to follow a precautionary approach, regulating the fishery generically, limiting entry and following 4 biological reference points: (1) a minimum legal size of 130mm in shell length, (2) a maximum allowable catch of 0.5% of the total estimated biomass if it is a prospective fishery or 1% if it is commercial fishery, (3) the restriction of fishing activities exclusively to previously identified beds, and (4) only beds with densities greater than 0.4 geoduck/[m.sup.2] may be exploited. The quota of 1% virgin biomass (Bo) pursues the long-term goal of harvesting 50% of Bo over a 50-y horizon. However, the estimation of Bo will always be uncertain. With a patchily distributed organism like this, it is almost impossible to define clearly the contour of a bed; moreover, it is acknowledged to be affected by significant mapping errors. The management plan refers to a bed as "an aggregation of individuals that share a population structure, defined by its density or another attribute such as size, age, or frequency distribution" (SAGARPA 2012, p. 37). This definition is too vague and of little to no use in the field. Even within these constraints, we do our upmost to define a geoduck bed and to define quotas to be authorized for each stakeholder's bed.

After stakeholders requested and received a fishing polygon from authorities, we decided to restrict the fishing area to the 30-m isobath for reasons relating to diver safety. After which, we set up a grid of 1,000 x 500 m from shoreline to a 30-m depth (Fig. 4A, B). Each point was inspected by a diver, who noted the presence or absence of geoduck. When points were marked and beds were drawn (Fig. 4C), geoduck density was evaluated. Bo was evaluated, taking into account density and total exploitable area, after that the size structure is important to assess the population larger than 130 mm in shell length and this population is multiplied by the exploitation rate (1%). As a result of density assessment, a quota of 1,173,898 pieces from 24 new beds was granted to 7 stakeholders (Table 2). In addition, there are an extra 6 stakeholders from the CGC and UGC-E that have been fishing intensively since 2010 and another 10 stakeholders waiting for permits and quotas. Our calculations showed that an additional 1,800 mt of geoduck can be fished in the Gulf of California to reach an estimated production of 3,000 mt in 2012 (Fig. 3). However, this extra production might have a negative effect on the market as a result of oversupply.

Biological knowledge of the P. generosa and P. globosa is scant, but Calderrn-Aguilera et al. (2010a) reported the asymptotic length of P. generosa to range from 133-139 mm according to gender and location in the Pacific coast. On the other hand, Cortez-Lucero et al. (2011) reported the asymptotic length of P. globosa to be 122 mm from a locale in CGC and without gender discrimination. Being 2 genetically different species, with different key population parameters, which are instrumental to estimate biomass, fishery management should be species specific and not generic, as is currently the case. There are some examples of failure because this type of management, the California abalone fishery management is a multispecies fishery being managed as a single species that collapse (Karpov et al. 2000) mainly because management ignored serial depletion by species and by area. Actual management effort in Mexican geoduck fishery was limited to conventional strategy that focuses on size limit, similar to the California abalone fishery management.



On a global level, many factors act to depress the seafood market and its prices. The main market is composed of Asian countries, which demand live geoduck. Therefore, the product must receive special handling and shipping. In Mexico, geoduck is commercialized by brokers in Ensenada, BC. This implies that all geoduck from other locations in Mexico be shipped to the packing plants in Ensenada via land transportation, where 2 main buyers control the geoduck market and prices. This in an incredibly important fact because in a monopsony, the seller cannot argue for better prices; their only option is to stop fishing, as some stakeholders decided to do in CGC. The first-hand price, paid to the fishermen is very different in each zone. On the Pacific coast of Baja California (Eastern Pacific North region of Fig. 1), the prices (US$ per kilogram) varied from $8-$10. On the other hand, in the Eastern Pacific South region and in UGC-E (Fig. 1), this price varied from $10-$12. However, in CGC and UGC-W, the price paid to fishermen varied from $2-$4. The local market is currently not a viable alternative for fishers; however, they are trying to introduce geoduck into the local markets of Guaymas and Ensenada as an aphrodisiac, where they sell the meat and not the live specimen, as in the Asian market. We surveyed those markets and corroborated that it is poorly appreciated and considered too expensive by Mexicans.

In conclusion, the Mexican geoduck fishery is growing vigorously and it will become the primary supplier of this product to Asian markets. The exploitation rate of 1% Bo pursues the long-term goal of harvesting 50% of Bo over a 50-y horizon, so the expected volume of 3,000 mt/y should be sustainable. However, the estimation of Bo will always be uncertain to evaluate. Low prices will prevail because of the monopsony, but this will not stop catches because traditional fisheries such as shrimp, crab, and jumbo squid are depleting. To date, the geoduck fishery is an option for people, who have spent their entire lives fishing, to continue working.


E. A. A. N. received financial support from the EP0.01 CIBNOR project. Many people provided valuable information to write this article. Fishermen from Sonora kindly gave us access to their fishery logbooks. Authorities from SAGARPA-CONAPESCA in Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur of the fisheries statistics section provided information on geoduck landings for the year 2011. Suggestions from colleagues that reviewed earlier versions of this work helped us to improve the manuscript. We are grateful to A. LievanaMac-Tavish for proofreading.


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(1) Centro de Investigaciones Bioldgicas del Noroeste, Unidad Sonora. Km 2.35 Camino al Tular, Estero Bacochibampo, Guaymas, Sonora 85454, Mexico; (2) Centro de Investigacion Cientifica y de Educacion Superior de Ensenada. Carretera Ensenada-Tijuana 3918, Ensenada 22860 Baja California, Mexico; (3) Union de Pescadores Libres del Estado de Sonora, Avenida Alfonzo Iberri241, Colonia Centro, Guaymas, Sonora 85400, Mexico

* Corresponding author. E-mail:

DOI: 10.2983/035.031.0317
Geoduck production from Mexico, including positions of the
states and seas.

         Sonora       Baja California      BCS       Mexico

Year     Gulf of California      Pacific Ocean       Total

2002                     13         36                    49
2003                     35          3                    38
2004                    255         10                   264
2005                    695          1                   696
2006                    961        332                 1,293
2007                    909        275                 1,185
2008                    905        340                 1,245
2009          59        931        255         37      1,282
2010         361      1,072        211        415      2,058
2011         434      1,050        275        450      2,225

BCS, Baja California Sur.

Geoduck stakeholders from Mexico, including quota and year
when operations started.

                                                      Quota (pieces)

Stakeholder                                         2012      2010-2012

* Lorenzo Osuna Gonzalez                                        234,713
* SCPP Ricardo Loreto Valenzuela SC de RL                       191,320
* Raul Sanchez Fourcade                                         184,322
* Productos del Mar la Oriental SA de CV                         99,247
([dagger]) SCPPA Islas de Sonora SCL                             90,009
([dagger]) SCPP Mar y Tierra del Golfo de
  Cortez SC de RL                                                80,000
([dagger]) SCPP Jaiberos y Escameros SC de RL                    38,815
* SCPPAR Pescadores de Villa Juarez SCL             389,865
([dagger]) SCPP Comercializadora Don
  Crispin SCL                                       226,210
* SCPPA Los Chanos de Kino Azul SC de RL de CV      194,032
* SCPP Pescadores de Nuevo Guaymas SCL              170,000
([dagger]) SCPP Familia Vejar SC de RL              107,558
* SCPP Pamaralevi SC de RL de CV                     60,000
([dagger]) Sociedad Acuicola GOLPAC SC de RL
  de CV                                              26,233
([dagger]) SCPP Nuevo Golfo SC de RL
([dagger]) SCPP Estero del Guero Veta SC de RL
(SCPP Don Tono SC de RL
([dagger]) SC Pesquera de los Verdugo de la
  Salinita SC de RL de CV
([dagger]) SCPP Progreso de Penasco SC de RL
  de CV
([dagger]) SCPP Buzos de Puerto Punta Penasco
([dagger]) Comercializadora Isla Tiburon SA
  de CV
([dagger]) SCPPA Los Sotelos del Desemboque
  SC de RL de CV
([dagger]) SCPPA Las Conchas Azules de Don
  Julian SC de RL de CV
Total                                             1,173,898     918,426

* Central Gulf of California region.

([dagger])  Upper Gulf of California region.

SCPP, Sociedad Cooperativa de Produccion Pesquera; SCPPA, Sociedad
Cooperativa de Produccion Pesquera de Altamar; SCPPAR, Sociedad
Cooperativa de Produccion Pesquera de Altamar y Ribera; SCL,
Sociedad de Capital Limitado; SC, Sociedad Civil; SA, Sociedad
Anonima; RL, Responsabilidad Limitada; CV, Capital Variable.
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