Shells project to benefit locals

A project focusing on creating jewelries out of trochus shells will provide a sustainable modest source of income for people who fish for trochus. 

Southern Cross University Biologist, Steve Purcell, told the Business team similar projects that have been carried out in a number of Pacific Islands have proven that if the animals are left to reproduce, they provide some supplemental income for the people. 

Mr. Purcell is facilitating a four weeks workshop currently being carried out in Upolu that is organised by the Fisheries Division (Ministry of Fisheries) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (A.C.I.A.R.).  

Accompanied by A.C.I.A.R. handicraft specialist, De’arne Kershler, the project involves shell polishing and jewelry making demonstrations for participants from community based programme, people who fish for trochus and handicraft makers. 

“This goes back all the way to the 1930s when it started to be introduced into other countries from Micronesia and since then it was introduced into the Cook Islands and the fishery was allowed to develop and many years after that people started to harvest them and have a very sustainable fishery that allowed some added income to people,” Mr. Purcell said.

“It’s not something that would provide a sole livelihood for someone. It has been introduced as vibrant fishery in French Polynesia, Tonga.”

Mr. Purcell said some buyers visited the participants’ workshop to observe the products and also determine the pricing and market demand. 

“These buyers from the markets and handicraft stores can let the participants know what sort of products are the ones that they would be interested in buying so that the participants know a bit about the market and also about what prices would they be willing to pay for that sort of thing,” he explained. 

“The participants have a role in deciding what price they are happy with too because they put in their time, effort and some costs into making the products, but also  the buyers will also understand the market and what price they feel they could set to cover their costs as well.”

Mr. Purcell said the Ministry has done a good job in managing the newly created fishery and ensuring that they are not over harvested. 

“For example, in some countries where sea cucumbers are harvested, there’s no regulation and they just over harvest it. The Ministry is not allowing exports yet, only for local use and because of that we’ve noticed the fishery is very sustainable.”

According to Mr. Purcell, the Ministry has a draft plan for the management of fishery and one of the regulation is the minimum size limit to ensure that the animals can have a chance to reproduce.     

“At the end of this project and by early next year, we’ll be talking with the Ministry about what options would there be in the long-term about exports, whether that’s a good idea or not and what sort of management regulation would be needed.”

Ms. Kershler said trochus has a monetary value. 

“It may just become a nice industry for people who fish for trochus and maybe even other communities as well," she said.

"At the moment the participants are a bit slow in making the products because they’re learning but if you get really quick, you can do a shell in 15-20 minutes and maybe a pair of earrings in 10-15 minutes.” 

Senior Fisheries Officer, Justin Aiafi said the use of the machines  could be charged in the future and the Ministry would be importing more machines in the future, but participants in Savaii will have access to machines on the island. 

Six people are participating in this week’s workshop, and the trainers hope to get the full registered 15 participants in the next three workshops, two of which are to be held in Asau and Salelologa, Savaii. The workshop on Upolu continues next week. 

The workshop will be open to the public but there have been arrangements made with the participants that the public may not be entitled to, such as travel allowance, food etc. For the public, if they want to be trained, they can contact the Fisheries Division. 

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