Hosted by the Board of the Cook Islands Pearl Agency (CIPA), the forum held at the Tauhunu CICC hall was well attended with more than 60 participants.
Presentations by CIPA and the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) were followed by lively and at times humorous debate, skilfully moderated by the CIPA chairperson Tina Brown.
In support of the forum, the Manihiki Island Council passed a resolution suspending all pearl farming activity for the day to ensure farmers and technicians would be present for the event. The Manihiki Pearl Farmers Association (MPFA) also lobbied their farmers and technicians to be present.
In his opening address the Prime Minister Henry Puna noted that individually each and every pearl farmer on Manihiki has expertise to offer and their own approach, but there were times that collective action required a common denominator.
CIPA Chief Executive Officer George Ellis presented policy guidelines focussing on marketing issues. This was followed by Secretary for MMR Ben Ponia along with biologist Tina Weier and Pearl Support Division director Dorothy Solomona outlining production issues and ways to improve farming practices. Based on feedback from group discussions Brown summarised the resolutions of the forum.
The 0.8mm nacre thickness minimum standard for pearls proposed by CIPA received full support from the community. The grow-out periods outlined in the Lagoon Management Plan remain in-force, and MMR was tasked with further research to determine ideal grow out period for reseeded pearls.
Farmers wishing to export their pearls will require an authentic certificate from CIPA to verify the nacre thickness. Likewise, those pearls being sold through the CIPA pearl exchange will be subject to quality controls. CIPA will establish a voluntary compensation package to assist pearl farmers to recover some costs if they chose to remove “reject” or “D” classified pearls from the market.
Guidelines to remove abandoned farm lines to improve the lagoon conditions were unanimously supported. Pearl farmers are encouraged to adopt a regular shell cleaning routine as a part of best husbandry practices with MMR to undertake a cost-benefit analysis for adopting the “scrubbing” routine over the “chipping” process.
The forum ended with considerable positive feedback and strong consensus that having the first pearl forum on Manihiki was an excellent opportunity for farmers to “buy-in” on policy guidelines affecting the future of the pearl industry. -- MMR Release