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By Jonathan Harwood

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (January 28, 2002 – Cook Islands News)---Cook Islands pearl producers are expected to have more than six-and-a-half million farm shells in production by 2005.

According to a government survey conducted in 2000 but only published this year, the black pearl industry on Manihiki, Penrhyn and Rakahanga is expected to boom.

The estimates for 2005 dwarf the figures for the year of the census, when there were 2.6 million shells in production.

Furthermore, the figure for 2000 came from a total of 182 farms while the 2005 estimate includes the projections of just 161 farms.

The statistics come from a census of agriculture and fisheries, which shows that Manihiki, which in 2000 was home to 57 per cent of the pearl industry, would still be leading the way in 2005.

From having just over two million farm shells in production when the survey was conducted, the atoll hopes to be able to boast in excess of 4.5 million in two years time.

Penrhyn hopes to see a similar expansion in its business.

There were around 300,000 shells on the atoll’s farms in 2000, but the producers hope the number will have rocketed to 1.75 million by 2005.

Rakahanga, the smallest producer, expects to have 300,000 oysters being farmed in two years.

The three atolls all had more conservative estimates for 2003, with the real boom in production coming between next year and 2005.

A total number of 446 people were working on the farms in 2000 and the average wage was NZ$ 460 (US$ 192) a month, although it varied from atoll to atoll.

Most people, 275, worked on Manihiki’s 106 farms, and just 30 worked on the 10 in Rakahanga.

Workers at Penrhyn’s 66 operations earned NZ$ 613 (US$ 256) a month while their less prosperous neighbors on Rakahanga pulled in just NZ$ 125 (US$ 52) a month.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online. 

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