Pearl farming interest grows

THERE is a widespread interest in Fiji in both privately-owned and public-operated pearl farming activities as well as enhancement and propagation efforts that will boost commercial harvests.

This was revealed by the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests adding that 45 community-based spat collection sites and six pearl farms will be assisted in the aftermath of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston.

Responding to queries, ministry’s public relations officer, Kuini Waqasavou said the ministry’s pearl project was facilitating the monitoring of 43 existing community-based spat collection sites and the six pearl farms.

“This project had been established to ensure that people in Fiji have an alternative source of living by utilising their foreshore areas to farm pearl oyster,” Mrs Waqasavou said.

The project, she said, involves the collection of spats from the wild, breeding, and farming of oysters to produce black pearls for overseas markets and also the utilising of its shells to produce value-adding commodities as byproducts.

“With the aftermath of TC Winston, the estimated damage costs for the pearl farms are $680,000 to the revival of the 45 community-based farms and assistance to six pearl farms,” Mrs Waqasavou said.

She said as at 2009, eleven pearl farms were established mainly in the Northern and Western divisions and these farms were generating and average annual revenues of about $3.4million in 2006 but is now turning more than $13.8m in total revenue.

“Pearl farming is a means to continue our fishing traditions in the face of declining wild fish stocks. The harvesting of wild stocks can not be sustained at the levels experienced in recent decades. Pearl farming can be used to supplement the wild harvest, which will undoubtedly be fished at lower intensities than in the past,” Mrs Waqasavou said.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research made a contribution last month towards this project. The scope of work with ACIAR and the department spans over a period of more than three years and assistance has been in the form of technical advice and input, capacity building for staff, training for community-based spat collectors and enhancing knowledge and skills-based specific women groups for pearl development.

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