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Overview of the Development and Modern Landscape of Marine Pearl Culture in the South Pacific

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Johnston, W. L., Hine, D. and Southgate, P. C. (2019) Overview of the Development and Modern Landscape of Marine Pearl Culture in the South Pacific. Journal of Shellfish Research, 38 (3). 499-518, 20.

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Article Link: https://doi.org/10.2983/035.038.0301


Natural marine pearls were a rare and valuable by-product of a fishery targeting pearl oyster shells for their mother-of-pearl (MOP). This fishery developed around the world throughout the 18th century and increased significantly through the 19th century in Australia and the Pacific islands. Overfishing of the MOP resource led to the development of pearl oyster spat (juvenile) collection techniques to assist stock replenishment. Although the MOP industry eventually ceased in the 20th century, spat collection provided a basis for pearl culture industries in the Pacific, that used nucleated pearl culture techniques developed in Japan. Today, French Polynesia is the largest producer of cultured round pearls in the South Pacific using the endemic black-lip pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera. The successful French Polynesian pearl industry was a catalyst for development of pearl culture in other Pacific island countries such as the Cook Islands and Fiji. As well as significant export income, pearl culture offers livelihood opportunities (upstream and downstream) to coastal communities at a number of levels, including collection of pearl oyster spat (juveniles) for on-selling to pearl farms, and jewelry and MOP shell craft production. Despite being compatible with local lifestyles, round pearl culture has significant barriers to entry, including high initial investment, high operational costs, and requirement for a high level of technical skills. Alternatively, significant opportunities for coastal communities exist from production of mabé pearls (half pearls) because although not as valuable as high-grade round pearls, they are cheaper to produce, demand fewer technical skills, and pearls can be produced by local people with minimum training. Diversification of round pearl farms into mabé pearl production, or the establishment of stand-alone mabé pearl farms, is increasingly prevalent in Pacific pearl-producing nations, motivated by risk minimization, a broader market base, and a much simpler and less costly industry entry pathway.

Item Type:Article
Business groups:Animal Science
Keywords:mabé pearls mother-of-pearl Pacific pearl industry pearl farming pearls
Subjects:Aquaculture and Fisheries > Fisheries > Fishery conservation
Aquaculture and Fisheries > Fisheries > Fishery management. Fishery policy
Aquaculture and Fisheries > Fisheries > Fishery research
Aquaculture and Fisheries > Fisheries > Shellfish fisheries
Live Archive:05 Feb 2020 03:17
Last Modified:03 Sep 2021 16:45

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