Aquaculture takes a hit

A diver employed by the J Hunter Pearls Fiji inspects a pearl farm in Savusavu. Picture: SUPPLIED

A number of aquaculture projects and programs in Fiji took a major hit because of the COVID downturn, says Pacific Community (SPC) principal aquaculture adviser Timothy Pickering.

Programs, such as the oyster and pearl farming project, were impacted because of declining sales of products.

“Round pearls are luxury items and people are not in the mood to be thinking about luxury during COVID and sales really plummeted,” he said.

“In fact, what’s been the feature of some of our aquaculture industries is what we are doing what is called a COVID pivot, it is to actually pivot away from the traditional market.

“Tourists stopped arriving. Those markets just vanished overnight so they had to pivot away from those markets and try to find new markets. So with the pearls and oysters, we had one such idea where instead of growing a pearl for big size to actually grow the pearl to a smaller size, about the size of a scallop.

“This takes about one and a half or two years. Then, sell this as a food item, very attractive on the plate.”

Mr Pickering said entrepreneurs could also build on domestic markets to start with. He said products could also be exported overseas.

“We have to go through various marketing and food safety steps before that will be a reality. It’s still a work in progress.”

He said the aquaculture was resilient and cited an example of tilapia farmers in Suva, who during the lockdown, had fully complied with COVID-mandated protocols to move produce across checkpoints in clean and sanitised vehicles.

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