Voices from the Night: Reflections from the Winter Night Harvest

Luke Gumke moved from the North Cascades region to South Puget Sound in 2007. He currently manages Arcadia Point Seafood, a Shelton-based geoduck farm owned by Vicki and Steve Wilson.

Beach harvesting in Puget Sound is dictated by the tides. During the winter months, the tide is low at night so geoduck farmers head out in the dark, sometimes working the tidelands until morning. Out of respect for the homeowners who live along the shoreline, these crews navigate almost entirely by headlamp. Geoduck farm owner, Vicki Wilson, remembers watching the “dance” of the crew at night. “We had a crew working on one of the beaches next to the house. We came up in the Pacific, and we stopped out in the water and watched the beach. All you could see was the little headlamps and they looked like fireflies. It looked like a dance. It was amazing to watch.”

Luke Gumke: geoduck farm manager

“It was the first fall that I was here when I got the part-time job helping with the night harvest. It was stressful being out at night not really being able to see - just having a headlamp - and being responsible for caging up all the ducks, keeping the boat in the right amount of water, and trying to keep up with the harvesters."

“Hopefully I’ll be with the company for quite a while. It’s working out real nice. I’m pretty lucky to have bosses like Vicki and Steve. They’re really good people. Unlike other industries, there doesn’t seem to be as much competition between farmers in the shellfish community. It seems like they’re more willing to help each other out, team up, and face problems.”

“Sometimes the fog gets really thick around here and if you’re in a boat that doesn’t have radar it’s hard to tell where you’re at. You use what you know from motoring around in the daytime – the different landmarks, points, islands – so you’ve got to have a mental image of that in your mind all the time."

“It takes a little time to get used to harvesting ducks. You have what we call the stinger (the 5/8” PVC pipe that’s attached to the main hose from the boat) and you have water flowing through there.”

“The body of the duck is usually shoulder length down into the sand. Once the water flow is turned on it’s kind of awkward aiming the stinger in the right direction. If you’re down there next to a duck and you turn the stinger the wrong direction it’s pretty easy to crack it or wreck the shell.”

“On clear nights when it’s real cold out it’s amazing how still and quiet it can be. Sometimes you’ll see schools of jellyfish that have collected in the tide rips, and as we motor by in the boats they’ll start to glow. The phosphorescence is pretty bright, especially in the prop wash behind the boat. It’s pretty cool, not something you see every day."