Fishery Research Station finds commercial pearl farming feasible
After years of dedicated effort, the Fishery Research Station, under the Nepal Agriculture Research Council, in Pokhara has concluded that commercial pearl farming is feasible in Nepal.
The station had initiated the project in 2017 as part of its mission to diversify aquaculture in the country. The research concluded last week.
Pearls, natural gems produced by mussels, have captivated humanity worldwide for centuries. They are cherished for their use in decorative and jewelry purposes, and also have medicinal properties for curing diseases. For the research, the station utilized mussels found in the lakes of the Pokhara Valley.
Nepal, blessed with abundant water resources and a variety of mussel species, holds great potential for commercial pearl farming, according to Senior Scientist Dr Md Akbal Husen, the chief of the station, who led the research. As freshwater pearl culture is a new frontier in aquaculture, the Fishery Research Station in Pokhara took up the study, Dr Huse added.
Over 18 species of freshwater mussels worldwide have been used for pearl farming.
Dr Husen emphasized that pearl farming can open up numerous opportunities for local farmers.
The research has demonstrated that freshwater pearl farming is viable in Nepal, as mussels can be integrated into fish ponds, he added. Pearl farming can be conducted in various water bodies such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, spanning from the Tarai to the mid-hills regions of Nepal. “This makes it an excellent opportunity for rural areas as people can start pearl farming with low investment and get high outputs,” he added.
One of the remarkable aspects of pearl culture is its environmental friendliness, as mussels act as natural water filters, contributing to the cleanliness of water bodies. This, in turn, supports intensive fish culture. Dr Husen highlighted that the simplicity of the methods and the less labor-intensive work involved make pearl farming a suitable profession for women, thereby creating more employment opportunities for rural women.
For the research, the station collected mussels from drainage canals and various lakes in Pokhara and kept them in tanks at the research station. Mussels were fed through natural phytoplankton development in the ponds, with occasional use of artificial feed. Compost, urea, and DAP were also frequently used in the tank to maintain the phytoplankton level.
According to Dr Husen, water bodies with a high volume of natural plankton, specifically phytoplankton, are the best for producing pearls. Dr Husen pointed out that areas like Begnas, Rupa, and other small lakes in the Lekhnath area and their surroundings contain the necessary conditions for successful commercial pearl farming.
How is pearl farming done?
First, freshwater mussels are collected from water bodies rich in phytoplankton. They undergo pre-operative conditioning for 2-3 days, kept in crowded conditions in plastic tanks with tap water at a stocking density of one mussel per liter. Then, the pearl nucleus, a bead made from powder made from mussel shells into molds, is inserted into the mantle cavity of the mussels after carefully opening the two valves without causing any injury to the mussels. After the implantation, the mussels are returned to the water. It takes approximately a year for the bead to transform into a pearl inside the mussel’s cavity.
Freshwater pearl culture is rapidly emerging as a significant activity in the aquaculture sector. India, Bangladesh, China, Japan, Vietnam, and various other countries have successfully developed freshwater pearl cultivation technologies. In many South-East Asian countries, freshwater pearl culture has become a significant source of employment and income.
The successful development of freshwater pearl farming by the Fishery Research Station in Pokhara represents a significant step towards boosting the economy and empowering local farmers in Nepal. The achievement opens up new possibilities for sustainable aquaculture in the region, benefitting both the environment and the community.
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