From a basket hoisted on the back of his trawler, fisherman Freddy Gutmann proudly picks up a giant geoduck clam fresh from the frigid waters off the northwestern Canadian coast.
“This one is a great specimen,” Gutmann says, as sea water gushes from the massive mollusk that measures an impressive 20cm.
Gutmann has good reason to be in high spirits, since within 24 hours, the super-sized shellfish — shunned by Western chefs — will be served at top restaurants in Hong Kong, Beijing or Tokyo for a steep price.
Without missing a beat, the 35-year veteran of the Pacific waters off northwest Canada swiftly fills three orange cases with his sorted and cleaned catch so they can be rushed to the airport in Vancouver — and on to Asia.
While a kilo of geoducks goes for about C$30 (US$27) these days — six times less than what top Asian eateries will ask their patrons to fork over — that was not always the case, Gutmann said.
“Fifteen years ago, its price was around C$0.30 per pound [0.45kg] maximum,” he said.
What’s more, licenses to harvest such clams were once available for a pittance.
“License owners got them for a couple bucks. Sometimes they were given by the government,” said the native of Tofino, a small seaside town in the province of British Columbia popular with surfers and aging hippies.
Today, however, “they’re worth C$4 to C$5 million,” he said.
In the port of Tofino, flanked by rugged, snow-capped mountains, mariners talk of astronomically high fees of C$50 million per permit and annual salaries of C$200,000 — all difficult to believe and verify.
However, just 55 fishing permits have been issued by Canadian authorities who are not planning to increase that quota — even though environmentalists say the geoduck population is overabundant.
The conspicuous clams can be found all the way from Mexico’s Baja California peninsula to Alaska, but they are particularly present off the shores of the US state of Washington and in neighboring British Columbia.
However, harvesting the shellfish is no easy task and, except for slightly more modern equipment, the task has not changed much since Gutmann started his career more than three decades ago.
It takes two divers weighed down by 30kg belts and taking turns over 12 hours to plunge 15m to 20m into the dark waters to wrest the geoducks from their perch on the sandy Pacific floor.
Dressed in thick wetsuits and attached to a boat by a 300m-long air hose, the divers scour the sea floor for tiny holes that suggest the presence of a clam, often buried under a meter of sand.
“You’ve got your ears against the sand — you hold it, but it’s fighting to leave,” said David Thomas, who has spent 27 of his 48 years searching for geoducks.
“It’s really hard to catch, especially for young divers,” he said.
Boasting the build of a US football player, Thomas — who works with Gutmann — swears this season will be his last.
Sometimes, the underwater current is so strong that it plasters you to the sea floor, said the family man, adding that he has even come face-to-face with a sea lion.
Interest in geoducks is so strong that once the Tofino fishing season ends, the modest local fleet of 30 trawlers heads further north to the Alaska border.
“There’s nothing out there — you go from one bay to another and you don’t see anybody,” Thomas said, as he pointed to a map on board the trawler known as the Hideaway II. “It’s all white here.”
But oddly, despite having spent so many years in pursuit of geoducks, neither Thomas, Gutmann or the boat’s third crew member have become culinary fans of the clams.
DEVELOPING TALENT: The electronics contractor is looking to recruit people to work in core tech fields and emerging industries like electric cars and robotics Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (鴻海精密), the world’s largest contract electronics maker, has launched a recruitment drive, offering a monthly salary of no less than NT$45,000 (US$1,485) to university graduates. For those with a master’s degree, the starting pay would be NT$52,000 per month at the minimum, while doctorate degree holders would receive at least NT$60,000 a month, Hon Hai said a statement issued early this week. The latest recruitment drive is aimed at attracting talent in core technology fields — artificial intelligence, semiconductors and next-generation mobile communications — and emerging industries — electric vehicles, digital healthcare and robotics, the
NEW CONSIDERATIONS: An airline manager said the idea is tempting, as demand for air cargo is strong, but issues such as training loaders would need to be addressed Taiwanese airlines might repurpose passenger jets to carry cargo in their cabins to offset lost revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Airlines are considering applying to the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) for permission to transport cargo in passenger cabins after StarLux Airlines Co (星宇航空) last month became the first among the nation’s airlines to offer cargo-only flights using the normal cargo holds of its three Airbus SE A321neo passenger jets. “We are considering whether to increase our capacity by putting cargo on passenger seats,” Starlux spokesman Nieh Kuo-wei (聶國維) told the Taipei Times by telephone. “The advantage is that we can improve revenue,
GLOBAL CUTS: CEO Warren East said the firm’s focus was on strengthening financial resilience, so it would likely reduce salary costs by at least 10% this year Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC is scrapping its targets and final dividend to shore up its finances as the British aero-engine maker’s customers around the world ground planes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rolls-Royce, one of Britain’s most historic industrial names, which before the pandemic struck was trying to emerge from a multiyear turnaround plan, has suspended its dividend for the first time since 1987. The company’s engines power Airbus SE and Boeing Co’s widebody jets, but more than 60 percent of that fleet is now grounded, according to aviation data provider Cirium. Rolls-Royce is paid by airlines based on how many hours they fly. Over
PAINFUL CONTRACTION: Passenger loads in February on flights between Taiwan and China, Hong Kong and Macau fell by more than 90 percent compared with December Even with more than NT$450 billion (US$14.85 billion) in financial aid from the Executive Yuan’s expanded relief package, local tourism-related businesses are unlikely to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic any time soon, a central bank report released last month said. The NT$1.05 trillion relief package includes NT$472 billion in financial assistance for tourism and transportation sectors, such as airlines, hotels, travel agencies, taxis and tour buses. However, a March 20 central bank report said that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global and domestic economies are far greater than that of the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, despite any benefits from delayed purchases