Alisa's Reviews > Shell Games: Rogues, Smugglers, and the Hunt for Nature's Bounty

Shell Games by Craig Welch
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's review
Jun 12, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: food, microhistory
Read from May 30 to June 12, 2011

I picked up this book at the encouragement of a friend and out of mild intrigue over the subject matter. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and as kids my parents took us clamming and crabbing when we vacationed along Hood Canal and the Olympic Peninsula. We dug little steamer clams in Hood Canal, razor clams along the Pacific beach, and Dungeness crab in the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Like other types of fishing and hunting, digging clams requires a license. Wildlife agents are sometimes out and about and the last thing you want is to get busted for not having your license or getting more than your limit or harvesting the wrong size or at the wrong time of year - that could mean a hefty fine and your catch confiscated. And then what would we have for dinner? We always bought our license, took care to note where and when you could dig, harvest limits, recorded our catch, and reported it to the state at the end of the season. It's what you are supposed to do. We never went after geoduck but we sometimes bumped into people who had them, and they are sometimes displayed at the Pike Place Market so I've seen them up close. They are obscenely large, ugly, and a little mysterious. They are so big they look like they would be tough, and not taste that good. A rarity, apparently some people find them a delicacy.

So could an entire book about an oversized clam be that interesting? I have been getting into reading microhistories, and a quick read about local lore, why not. This book however turned into something completely unexpected, and after reading the first few pages I was hooked. More than a book about an ugly clam, this is a full fledged mystery about smugglers and wildlife poaching and the international commodities black market trade. I had no idea the ugly mollusk was subject of so much demand, or that there even was such a thing as geoduck poaching. Seriously? I'm always a little amazed at the plethora of sea life that lives in the Pacific Northwest waters, and I appreciate the culinary attraction of anything hauled out of these waters, but the geoduck - who knew? The author, an environmental and wildlife journalist for the Seattle Times, does a superb job of telling the story of the little known geoduck smuggling operation in Puget Sound and surrounding waters. This is much more than a story about cutting the middle man out of the food distribution market, but reads like a page-turning thriller. It's just that it's all true. Great story, thoroughly researched, lively story line. I found myself gasping out loud at some sections and not wanting to put this down. Start to finish I thoroughly enjoyed this book, fascinating story.
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Reading Progress

06/04/2011 page 83
29.0% "who knew there even was such a thing as clam smuggling? fascinating!"
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