Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Abrolhos Islands reveal pearls of opportunity

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TRIAL tests into the viability of WA’s Akoya pearl industry have shown strong commercial potential with the Mid-West region poised to capitalise on demand from international markets.

“Testing the commercial potential of Akoya pearl oysters has demonstrated the future potential for production of high-quality pearls for the region.”—Mr Moore. Image: flickr Angel Jimenez

A four year trial test has recently been completed, providing a comprehensive analysis of factors affecting the successful production of pearls, including environmental, husbandry practices, technician routines and site variations.

The $686,000 research project was funded by the Australian Government through the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.

The results demonstrate that overall, revenue per pearl could be expected to increase significantly through a commercial scale approach to a level that is much more acceptable to pearl farmers and to financial analysts.

Fisheries Minister Norman Moore says the Abrolhos Akoya Pearl Project demonstrates the benefits of collaboration between pearl producers, scientists and specialists.

“Testing the commercial potential of Akoya pearl oysters has demonstrated the future potential for production of high-quality pearls for the region, which will enable WA producers to capitalise on the pearl market,” he says.

“What had been learned from monitoring the growth and performance of the trial oysters during the project will help industry to identify the best management practices at various sites to benefit different stages of pearl culture. This will in turn reduce culture costs and further enhance pearl values.”

Researchers say benefits generated by the project have already been adopted by the non-maxima pearl industry through improved hatchery spat production and better husbandry activities and directly applied to the blacklip industry.

The report says farm management practices for Akoya can now utilise the extensive knowledge gained in pre-operative conditioning of oysters and relationships between oyster size, nucleus and subsequent pearls.

However, it also recommends further research to investigate other environmental aspects that must be involved in stimulating the variations between oysters and pearls produced at the five research sites at the Abrolhos Islands.

Japan previously held the largest Akoya market but production is declining and China is rapidly becoming a major producer of low cost Akoya pearls. The Minister said there was a commercial opportunity for larger, higher quality pearls to be produced in the Abrolhos area.

The Abrolhos Islands pearling industry operates on aquaculture leases granted by the WA Department of Fisheries.

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