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Fiji's rare pearls

J Hunter Pearls
Thursday, November 30, 2017

J. Hunter Pearls Fiji is the leading producer, retailer and exporter of the rare and unique coloured Fijian Pearls. Shortlisted as an honouree in the prestigious JNA Awards for theirsustainability efforts in pearl cultivation this year in Hong Kong, the Savusavu based company is excited to open their new hatchery facility in Savusavu next month.

Prior to setting up the Fijian grown business in the late 90s pearl farmer Justin Hunter worked extensively in marine hatcheries in the US for family-owned edible oyster business Taylor Shellfish. With this experience and lots of trial and error J. Hunter opened their first hatchery in Savusavu in 2005.

The hatchery allows the pearling company to selectively breed the Fijian pearl oyster, selecting only those from their farms with the best traits to be used as brood stock. The facility also houses an algae lab where various strains of algae are cultured under strictly controlled and sterile conditions as food for the young oysters known as spat.

From the time of fertilisation microscopic spat are grown in special rearing tanks for up to 35 days before they are transferred to the nursery grids for grow out on the pearl farm.

These young oysters will then spend the next four to five years feeding and growing before they are mature enough to be nucleated and start the process of forming their own unique Fiji Pearl. Throughout this time they are closely monitored by the J. Hunter dive and cleaning crews, ensuring they are healthy and growing in optimal conditions.

The facility was the first of its kind to successfully reproduce the Fijian Pearl Oyster (Pinctada margaritifera typica) commercially. Results have been positive with hatchery produced oysters producing high quality pearls in recent harvests. The hatchery has also successfully trialed sea cucumber and giant clam species prior to being completely destroyed by severe Tropical Cyclone Winston last year.

"We are thankful for the Department of Fisheries, SPC and the EU for assisting us in building this new facility. Hatchery production is an essential and absolutely critical component of pearling in Fiji as the wild oyster populations are limited.

"To give you an idea, we deploy 100 to 150 spat collectors that are suspended over 30 - 45 kilometres of lines in the Bay each year. These collectors when harvested by the village groups average around 500 shells per line which is extremely low in comparison with Tahitian pearl farms that average close to 20,000 shells per line."

The new hatchery will employ three full time staff members and aims to produce up to 200,000 seedable oysters per annum, with operations beginning next month.

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