Geoduck plant sets its roots in a new location

SUQUAMISH — Like every other business in today’s economy, a local seafood enterprise known for its geoduck delicacy is working to stay afloat within its unique market.

And Suquamish Seafoods is doing what any other business does when it grows and expands — moves to a new location.

The business has been operating out of the tribal center on Sandy Hook Road since the tribe chartered the enterprise in 1996. But when it received a $466,468 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to improve economic conditions on the reservation in 2002, the seafood business was a top priority.

“We’re trying to provide a better and improved space for our geoduck export facility,” said Suquamish Seafoods Board president Leonard Forsman.

The current facility at the tribal center is 1,400-square feet and is used as both the business office and seafood processing area. The processing area is where divers drop off their catches and geoducks are sorted and prepped for shipment or pick up by vendors. The enterprise packages and ships 450,000 pounds of geoduck annually.

The new building, located on Highway 305 behind the Suquamish Tribal Police station, will provide 3,840-square feet on the first floor for processing and 2,000-square feet on the second floor for office space. The parcel of land involved is just less than 1 acre in size.

Constructing the facility will cost the tribe approximately $600,000, which includes the grant and additional funds from tribal resources.

The primary reason for the new plant is to create a larger office, facilitate management of the business and allow for diversification of products, Forsman said.

The new processing plant will neither have noisy equipment nor be intrusive to neighbors, Forsman reassured, noting the surrounding lands are primarily commercial in the first place.

Once completed, the building will conclude phase one for the seafood enterprise. Phase two will involve installing more equipment within the plant that will be part of the “added value programs,” Forsman said. This arm of the business will include bringing in other types of seafood, like frozen shrimp to make breaded shrimp or clams to make clam chowder.

The business’ biggest client is overseas.

“(Geoduck) sells as a delicacy in China,” Forsman said. The company provides three grades of geoduck, which can range from $3 to $9 a pound. Chinese vendors purchase them fresh, which requires that the shellfish be shipped overnight and kept alive until they are served.

“If it’s not fresh, it’s not fish,” Forsman said with a chuckle about the Chinese choice of cuisine.

Geoduck is only found along the West Coast of North America, from Alaska to Washington, making it a highly coveted item.

The seafood business is a separately-chartered, independent enterprise that reports to Suquamish Tribal Council. Operations are overseen by a five-tribal member board appointed by the council and is not a part of the Port Madison Enterprises.

The plant is expected to be operating by this fall.

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