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SECRETARIAT OF THE PACIFIC COMMUNITY (SPC) Noumea, New Caledonia Suva, Fiji Islands

NEWS RELEASE September 1, 2000

The Solomon Islands pearl industry has been launched with the Fiji Islands, Kiribati and Tonga in line to follow.

"We've been unable to come up with any other venture that offers such good opportunities for earning income in rural coastal communities," said Barney Smith, Fisheries Research Program manager of ICLARM (International Center for Living Aquatic Resources).

Smith and Johann Bell, head of ICLARM, met with other high-level pearl researchers at SPC headquarters in Noumea last week to discuss key issues pertaining to pearl industry development in the western Pacific.

The meeting enabled the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) to make a clear plan of action and strengthen its partnership with ICLARM and SPC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community).

Exported Tahitian pearl products alone earned French Polynesia around US$ 170 million last year. Pearl farms earned the Cook Islands US$ 5 million.

In both countries, the industry was second only to tourism in terms of bringing in overseas funds.

Over the last six years, work has been under way to adapt the technology of culturing the legendary black pearl oyster to the western Pacific, where lagoon conditions are not the same as in French Polynesia and Cook Islands.

ACIAR, at James Cook University, Australia, and ICLARM have combined efforts to achieve their goal.

Despite the lack of ideal lagoon areas, the new technology has succeeded.

In Kiribati, over the next year, 10,000 black-lip pearl oysters will be "seeded" to grow their precious crop.

As a result of work by James Cook University, four local staff, with no outside supervision, are now successfully growing the juvenile oysters in their hatchery.

Meanwhile, in the Solomon Islands, ICLARM tried a different approach, catching young oysters ('spat') from the wild, and growing them in the lagoon.

The first crop, from a small demonstration farm, is now ready.

In celebration, the pearls, beautifully mounted into jewelry, will go on auction, over the Internet. The auction will be held in Sydney on September 17th, but the pearls can be inspected from September 4 onwards at

And the exciting news is that the technology has been transferred to Tonga and the Fiji Islands and will go to the Marshall Islands next. The catch rates in Fiji are even higher than those in Solomon Islands.

Barney Smith, in summing up the discussions, advised countries developing a black pearl industry to be proactive in their planning, to avoid the industry being dominated by those with a 'get-rich-quick' attitude.

"It is essential to include all stakeholders in the planning stage, and not rely only on outside consultants," he said. "Ownership at all levels is the essential ingredient for a successful industry."

For additional information, contact: Pierre Labrosse:  Barney Smith:  Johann Bell:  

Sarah Langi English Editor Secretariat of the Pacific Community BP D5 98848 Noumea Cedex New Caledonia Tel +687 26 01 96  

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