Juneau geoduck farmer Tom Manning wants to set up a small nursery to help boost the survival rate of his baby geoducks.
Manning, who also teaches art at Juneau-Douglas High School, runs an experimental geoduck and little steamer clam farm below the zero-tide line at north Bridget Cove, about 38 miles north of downtown Juneau.
The farm, which opened in 2003, is the farthest north that anyone has tried to cultivate geoducks, Manning said last week.
Over the last two years of experimentation, Manning has learned that the first week or so after he plants his baby clams - about one-eighth- to one-quarter-inch long - is their deadliest.
"They are so fragile," Manning said.
"Sometimes, they just lie there exposed. They kind of go into shock," Manning added.
If the baby clams do not burrow into the sand, they are susceptible to predators, such as crabs and starfish, and to storms that wash them out to sea.
Manning has applied for a permit amendment with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to expand within the confines of his 1-acre plot to add a nursery system for the baby clams, called spats.
That permit amendment is up for public comment until Nov. 3. It is being reviewed for consistency with the Alaska Coastal Management Program.
Manning will also apply for a new conditional use permit with the city of Juneau.
Manning's original application to open the geoduck farm was met with some opposition from residents who did not want a commercial operation on a public beach, said Juneau city coastal planner Teri Camery.
She said she has not received any complaints about the farm since it opened.
At this time of year, the farm is virtually hidden from view because there are no minus tides during daylight hours to expose the clams. The geoducks are growing in PVC pipes that Manning drove into the sand.
Manning is not sure how he will build the nursery, and he is consulting with Alaska Department of Fish and Game personnel on the best way to set it up.
His basic concept is a series of trays filled with sand, sitting on a platform. A constant flow of seawater will wash over the tiny geoducks. The babies will dig themselves into the sand and start feeding. In theory, they will grow to a point where they can be moved to the farm itself.
"The big picture is that they are acclimatizing," Manning said.
If the clams live beyond their first week, Manning said he can get about a 50 percent survival rate.
So far he has planted more than 6,000 geoducks but doesn't know how many of them have survived.
Manning won't harvest the clams until they reach at least 3 pounds, at which point they could be worth about $7 per pound.
Geoducks are a delicacy in Asia, where they are said to have aphrodisiac qualities.