THE Western Australian and Northern Territory governments have signed a Memorandum of Understanding designed to ensure better management of and co-operation in the pearling industry. The WA Department of Fisheries has also released a draft discuss-ion paper on aquaculture lease processes. The MOU is based on a combined agreement between WA and the NT and agrees that South Sea pearl production be managed on a whole-of-industry basis in order to maintain the integrity of the industry and its value to the community. A joint signing was held between the NT Minister for Primary Industry and Fisheries, Kon Vatskalis, and his WA counterpart, Fisheries Minister Jon Ford. Darwin-based Paspaley is Australia’s biggest pearl player. It has a big stake in the Kimberley region and shares production leadership out of WA with MG Kailis Group, which holds the Kailis Australian Pearls brand. The Kimberley pearl industry is centred in Broome. The farming of the gold or silver lipped pearl oyster (Pinctada maxima) for pearls and associated products forms Australia’s largest aquaculture sector, with WA being the largest pearl producer. The pearling industry contributes about $200 million a year to WA’s economy in the value of exports. More than 2,000 people are directly employed in the industry. In a statement, Mr Ford said the MOU would enable WA and the NT to work together to develop more consistent standards and policies to deal with management, compliance and industry development. He said there were potential synergies and efficiencies in compliance arrangements across both WA and NT. “Consistent translocation and fish health protocols are critical to the management of both pearl oyster health and production throughout WA and the NT,” Mr Ford said. “The MOU will help to ensure that the collection and interpretation of industry information relating to the South Sea pearl market is more reliable and will be integral to any future quota management system.” The Pearl Producers Association said a consistent policy position across both governments would ensure production was carefully managed to meet world demand. Most pearls produced in WA are from the silver lipped pearl oyster, commonly called South Sea pearls. However, there are about 40 licences for the culture of non-maxima pearls, commonly known as WA black pearls, which can be found as far south as the Abrolhos Islands, off Geraldton. WA black pearls are considered different from the Pacific variety due to colour. Pacific black pearls appear grey, green and black, whereas pearls from the Abrolhos Islands are more silver, green, peacock and aubergine. Meanwhile, the Department of Fisheries has released a draft discussion paper, which proposes recommendations to better guide the aquaculture lease process for lease applications, renewals and variations. “This document holds important implications for the management of aquaculture in WA and I urge industry members and interested people in the community to read the draft and provide their feedback,” Mr Ford said.