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Black pearl quality offers opportunities in Fiji

FIJI - Diamonds are a woman's best friend, but pearls, especially black pearls, are the craze now and Fiji's pearl farming industry is prospering.

Pearls come in different shapes, sizes and grades.

The black pearl industry in Fiji began in 1998 through the initiative of the Fisheries Department and the Commodity Development Framework with 10 farms whereby four are owned by foreigners and six by local villagers operating in Vanua Levu.

Based on statistics released by the Pacific Islands Pearl Exports to the United States of America for 2004-2006, Fiji earned $74,928 (US) in 2004, $276,561(US) in 2005 and $107,927(US) last year.

But compared to our neighbour Tahiti, Fiji's production and export is quite low. However, local pearl farmer, Justin Hunter of J.Hunter Pearls Fiji says quantity should not be valued over the quality of the pearls that come out of Fiji.

J. Hunter Pearls Fiji, which is based in Savusavu, produces 50,000 to 60,000 pieces of black pearls a year but there are certain factors which play against the successful farming of black pearls in Fiji.

"Farming is intensive and markets are very tough. Most pearls go through either Hong Kong or Japan prior to other markets as this is where the many different grades are sorted out and then sent to respective markets," said Mr Hunter.

He said putting other pearl farmers aside, the major competitor of the industry in Fiji was the condition of the marine environment which was the major factor influencing the quality of pearls produced.

He believes competition for clean unspoilt marine environment was the main factor in the young pearl farming industry in Fiji.

Source: The Fiji Times Online