Half-pearl industry development in Tonga and Vietnam - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Half-pearl industry development in Tonga and Vietnam

This project supports further development of community-based pearl farming in Tonga and investigates similar industry potential in Vietnam.

Half-pearl (mabé) production and associated handicrafts industries are expanding and providing impressive livelihood benefits in Tonga, but require input and support to maintain momentum. Oysters used for mabé production are also found in Vietnam, but are not yet utilised for mabé or handicraft production despite a considerable tourist market.

Objectives in Tonga
  • fine-tune hatchery production methods and improve spat production in Tonga
  • optimise site-specific nursery culture methods
  • establish new community-based pearl farms
  • provide on-farm training of pearl farmers, prospective pearl farmers and community
  • provide water-quality monitoring, GIS planning, and economic modelling to enhance farm management and planning
Objectives in Vietnam
  • train Ministry of Fisheries, Research Institute for Aquaculture 3 (RIA 3), staff in hatchery and early-nursery culture and RIA3 staff and prospective farmers in mabé pearl seeding
  • conduct spat collection trials at various sites to determine recruitment and determine the optimal pearl-culture period
  • carry out field-based nursery-culture experiments with hatchery-produced spat at various sites to determine appropriate culture methods for local conditions
  • conduct a consumer (tourist) survey seeking feedback on pearl/pearl-shell jewellery and handicraft items to inform training skills and conduct retail trials of pearl shell handicraft items in Nhatrang
  • engage local women’s groups in pearl-shell handicraft production
Sustaining half-pearl industry momentum in Tonga

Half-pearl production in Tonga relies on hatchery-produced juveniles. Once considered a bottleneck for industry expansion, recent technical advances in hatchery and nursery production support the regular supply of oysters to pearl farmers for the first time.

This has stimulated an increase in the number of pearl farms and expansion of pearl farming from its traditional hub of Vava’u to the main island of Tongatapu, where three new community-operated farms were established in 2015.

This momentum results from the collective outputs of a number of ACIAR projects including: business skills training to pearl farmers; formulation of a pearl industry Development Plan; training for farmers to optimise half-pearl quality, handicraft skills training and market development supporting broader livelihood options.

Further momentum was recently made with the establishment of Tonga’s newest pearl farm in the remote island group of Ha’apai.

Tapping into unrealised potential – Vietnam’s mabé pearl industry

Commercial mollusc culture is well established in Vietnam, yet despite availability of the winged-pearl oyster, Pteria penguin, and a considerable tourist market, it is not utilised for mabé or mother-of-pearl (MOP) handicraft production.

Using expertise developed in Tonga, this project will assess the feasibility of establishing community-based mabé culture in the Nhatrang area of Vietnam. The project is a partnership with the Ministry of Fisheries, Research Institute for Aquaculture (RIA3).