General pearls farm management
Tending the farm is an important part of producing good pearls. Growing pearl oysters is the same as growing any crop; the farm must be tended often for the pearl oysters to grow well and produce high quality pearls. The following are the most important farm management activities:
Visit the farm at least every 2 days to inspect it for any maintenance needs. When visiting the farm, look for damaged or missing lines and floats. Be sure the depth of the line is 16-19 ft (5-6 m). If needed, adjust the depth of the line by adding floats or tightening the anchor lines.
Make sure none of the pearl oysters have fallen off or been stolen. Count how many pearl oysters have died and keep a record of this. Frequent visits will also allow you to judge when the pearl oysters need to be cleaned.
Clean the pearl oysters and lines monthly.
Pearl oysters must be cleaned of the fouling organisms that grow on their shells. If left for long periods, these organisms can bore through the shell or compete with the pearl oysters for food. Some types of fouling organisms can grow between the shells and prevent the pearl oyster from closing completely. Fouling on the lines and pearl oysters can cause the line to sink under the increased weight. Frequent cleaning will make the job easier by removing the fouling organisms while they are still small and easily removed.
Cleaning can be done by gently cutting off the fouling organisms with a knife or a steel-wire brush. Mechanized cleaning machines that use high power jets to remove fouling are available. Another alternative is to use a high-pressure hydraulic sprayer designed for use with seawater. It is important to understand that cleaning is stressful for the pearl oysters, and if done too roughly or too frequently, could lead to poor quality pearls. Pearl oysters should not be cleaned more often than once a month, because they need time to recover from the stress. It is usually not necessary to clean them more frequently than this at any rate. The farmer must strike a balance between keeping the pearl oysters sufficiently clean, not over-stressing the animal and wasting valuable time.
There may be certain areas within a lagoon where farming occurs more rapidly than in others. If you experience very heavy fouling or fouling by particularly damaging organisms such as the boring sponge, you might want to consider moving the farm. Always handle the pearl oysters gently during cleaning. Avoid keeping pearl oysters out of the water for more than 20 minutes or so. The oysters should always be laid on their sides so that water does not leak out of the shell. If the pearl oysters begin to open, that indicates they have been kept out of the water too long.
When cleaning by hand with knives, try to be as gentle as possible. Avoid breaking the edge of the shell. Regrowing shell takes energy and this could slow down pearl development. Do not throw the waste from cleaning into the lagoon or farm area. Wastes from cleaning, dead pearl oysters or other trash will pollute the water and could harm the pearl oysters. It should be buried on land or disposed of at sea outside of the lagoon area.
Keep records of the work you do.
Write down the work done each time you visit the farm; for example, how many new pearl oysters were added to the farm, how many died, how much was spent on materials for the farm and any other information. Thorough records are useful for keeping track of costs, losses and if any problem such as disease or mortality occurs, the records may provide information that may help you determine the cause.
Keep the pearl oysters healthy by collecting and handling them properly.
See the “Handling and transport” section on Page 35 for guidelines on handling pearl oysters.
Prevent predators from eating or damaging pearl oysters. All pearl oysters are vulnerable to attack from predators, but small spat are especially likely to be eaten by predators. When using containers such as lantern baskets or trays to hold small pearl oyster spat, check regularly for predators such as crabs or snails, which easily invade and hide in these containers. Predatory snails (Cymatium spp.) can kill several pearl oysters once they enter a container. Snails tend to hide in crevices and under pearl oysters, so a thorough, weekly inspection is needed. The main threat to pearl oysters hanging on chaplets are predatory fishes such as trigger fish and rays, which have strong jaws capable of crushing even adult pearl oysters.
Protect the farm from vandalism and theft.
Theft and vandalism commonly cause economic losses on pearl oyster farms. Prevent this by siting the farm where you can watch it from your house. At the very least, try to keep its location a secret by submerging the entire farm. Farms have sometimes lost up to 20% of their pearls to theft. Pearls are valuable and farms are often left unattended. Anyone entering your farm should be monitored at all times.
Article source: The Basic Methods of Pearl Farming, Author: A Layman’s ManualMaria Haws, Ph.D. (Director, Pearl Research and Training Program, Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hilo, HI 96720 USA, Center for Tropical and Subtropical Aquaculture, Publication No. 127, March 2002)
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