While this curious creature may appear to be the appendage of Sesame Street character Mr Snufleupagus, it is in fact Panopea Zelandica. The common name of Deepwater King Clam or Geoduck (“gooey duck”) are still seldom familiar to the average kiwi water enthusiast.
Lurking beneath the substrate of several sheltered bays and inlets around New Zealand’s coastline, the Geoduck can be found. Belonging to the phylum Mollusca, the Geoduck is a bivalve. Inside its elongated siphon are two tubes running from the gut cavity to the tip. One is used to transport water that is sucked into the tip and down into the shellfish’s stomach where the nutrients it requires to grow are removed. Waste water is then ejaculated out of the second tube. The Geoduck is buried up to a meter beneath benthic sediment. It will stretch its snorkel up to the seafloor where only the tip will emerge while it feeds. During non-feeding periods the snorkel retracts down below the sand or mud and remains hidden from view. Living up to 60 years in other parts of the world, the Zelandica only lives to a modest 25 years. Throughout their lives the Geoduck never moves from its spot. They live in colonies that exist in 4 to 15 meters depth in several know locations around New Zealand’s coastline. Shelley bay in Wellington Harbour, Kennedy Bay at the top of Coromandel Peninsula, Patterson Inlet on Stewart Island and Golden Bay are places Geoduck are known to inhabit. It is very likely that they are found in other locations but more research needs to be done in this area. These are one of the largest know shellfish in the worlds, some examples of Canadian Geoduck can be more than a meter in length. In New Zealand the size is generally much smaller with the snorkel measuring between 25cm and 45cm in length. The weight range tends to be between 350gms and 750gms.
Although its looks lack any appeal whatsoever, the Geoduck in a delicacy in China, Korea and Japan. With its phallic shape it was always sort after as an aphrodisiac but it’s the unique flavour that sits somewhere between Oyster and Scallop that makes the flesh so desirable. The first hit of flavour upon biting into it is surprisingly sweet. The texture is very similar to overcooked squid and has a real crunch to it. In Korean cuisine they have many ways to prepare Geoduck. They sauté it, add it to soups and stews, and have it raw with a spicey sauce. The Japanese prefer raw as sashimi with wasabi and soy.
Commercially, Geoduck were first harvested in the 1980’s in Golden Bay. Back then the quota for fishery was a mere 20 tonnes. The original quota holders ran into various problems and fishing soon stopped. In 2020 the fishery arose from the ashes and is now flourishing once again in Golden Bay. The annual total allowable catch is now up to 80 tonnes based on recent research into Geoduck stocks, life cycles and mortality rates. The fishing process in itself is very interesting. They are caught by divers who fish for them in around 4 – 10 meters of water. They take an airline down with them to breath. It is run off a compressor in the boat above. This means the diver is able to stay down on the bottom to continue the search. The diver carries a high-pressure hose with him that is also run by a motor on the boat. Once the diver locates the tip of the geoduck siphon, he uses the hose to blast away the mud from around the shaft so he can get a good grip to pull it up. He then puts the Geoduck into a catch bag which when full is taken back to the boat. They are both exported and sold to one or two wet fish markets around NZ. At up to $40/kg, these are a valuable resource.
At first glance these truly do look like a practical joke being played on us by Tangaroa but dig a little deeper (excuse the pun) and you will find a fascinating creature that could well provide a multi-million-dollar export industry.