Pearl industry future

A J Hunter Pearl Fiji Limited worker monitors a pearl line in the Savusavu Bay. Picture: SUPPLIED

IN a time when the world’s seas are being threatened by pollution and continuous exploitation, the pearl industry may hold hope for our waters being a perfect example of blue economies and industries.

According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the, “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.”

Considering that oysters need perfect clean water conditions to produce pearls those involved in the industry are therefore stewards of the seas considering they need perfect seas to produce the gems.

J Hunter Pearls Fiji Ltd’s owner, Justin Hunter says the community or the pearl farmer has a vested interest in protecting the natural environment around him because pearls cannot perform well in poor quality water.

“They are known as an indicator species considering that it is one of the largest filter feeders which means that when there is something wrong with the environment it shows in the oyster first,” said Mr Hunter.

“Therefore I intend to work specifically with integrated owners of management plans who have marine protected areas and this is how we can supplement their incomes for communities and resource owners because the greatest threat to our environment is poverty.

“Pearl farming can be an income supplement and at the same time those involved will be aware of their environment they meaning will not let people meddle with their waters making them stewards of the sea.”

Fiji’s Pearls as an intellectual property
The farming of pearls through aquaculture is purely based on research and development, says Mr Hunter adding that it cost somebody a lot of money to develop them. Mr Hunter said aquaculture was more like the trade industry because those involved had to develop the market and create efficient economy of scale to grow it because considering that farmed pearls did not occur naturally. “Therefore there needs to be a lot of research and those involved need to be recognised because of the vast work involved and pearls therefore need to be protected as intellectual properties,” he said. “Work involved in this research need to be recognised for their value because as researchers and farmers we cannot share the benefits without sharing he risk and cost that took us to develop the industry. “In the industry nothing happens by chance because there is a lot of work behind these projects to make them a reality and there is a cost to it.”

Picking after TC Winston
According to Mr Hunter the hatchery represented the impacts that Climate Change was having on island communities adding it was a tribute to the human spirit to come together to help pick up the pieces after Cyclone Winston. “We lost 30 kilometres of long lines with some 120,000 young oysters, our showroom destroyed, jetty gone, and our hatchery completely destroyed with loss of infrastructure and loss of income valued at around $60 million,” said Mr Hunter. “At a staff meeting post TC Winston we gathered around as individuals but when disasters hit we pulled together more as a family and as a business with some 51 employees we needed to think about rebuilding and recovering what we lost. “We also had to think about the economic ability to do this and we had to consider closure or selling because TC Winston also created another issue which was the loss of our retail income “One day a few workers approach me and tell me, ‘Boso, we can volunteer until company is OK again’ and then it hit me this is bigger than us because it is about our resilience, people and island communities that have very few options for earning foreign exchange.”

Mr Hunter has partnered with communities and individuals around the Cakaudrove coastal areas especially traditional fishing rights owners to produce
pearls and one of them is Wailevu chief, Ratu Jone Maivalili. Through the partnership Ratu Jone said Mr Hunter provided them with materials for farming pearls while they developed them and sold them back to the company. Ratu Jone said his experience as a lone i-Taukei pearl farmer was not an easy one. “I have been struggling on my own for nine years since 2010 and Mr Hunter has given me great support and the needed boost to continue,” he said. “It’s a business for us, but it’s also more than that; we’re working together to develop the pearl industry for the country.” Today, Ratu Jone said he would never trade his status as a pearl farmer for any other career in the world. “For me, it took seven to eight years to at least get the basics right,” he said. He made frequent trips to Japan and at the same time mastered the Japanese language to be able to find a suitable buyer for
his pearls. Mr Hunter is also partnering with the Yaroi Women’s group who are also farming pearls.

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