Techno-economic examination of giant clam production and marketing in a global context

French Polynesia, already world renowned as a source of high quality cultured black pearls, is looking to extend its market share in the marine aquarium trade supplying its spectacular “ultra” colours of giant clam.  This exploits its international position as a tourism hotspot with good air connections (essential for moving fragile live animals around the globe), and offers the possibility of providing key income opportunities to its many isolated island communities.  Once again Nautilus has joined forces with Hambrey Consulting, this time examining the techno-economics of this business opportunity, combining examination of production technologies and economics with review of international market trends and assessment of what the competition is up to. 

As a means of providing key cash income to households in isolated island locations around the South Pacific, giant clam farming provides a tantalising opportunity.  With the growth in interest in keeping complex tropical marine aquariums – both as a hobby, and in public aquaria – the international trade in these bivalve molluscs has escalated in recent years.  Until very recently most specimens traded on international markets have been collected from the wild, but preferences are now shifting to hatchery produced animals.  Building on prior Pacific and giant clam experience dating back to the 1980s and 90s, this international team, headed by John Hambrey, examined all possible value chain opportunities, looking at meat, shell and aquarium products, and specific market conditions in China and Japan, and North America and Western Europe. 

Giant clams have the unusual characteristic that the colour that makes them such attractive additions to marine aquariums is provided by zooanthellae, symbiotic photosynthetic algae that live within the flesh of the giant clam in a relationship that benefits both organisms.  It is not possible to “breed” a particular colour of clam, though genetics and environment will clearly play their parts, and so only a small proportion of hatchery produced clams develop the stunning colours that we are used to seeing in the media.  Making sense of the logistics and technologies necessary to build sustainable businesses around marine resources is what John Hambrey and Crick Carleton have been doing for the last thirty years.  Both are products of the Stirling University Technological Economics post graduate course that blossomed in the 1970s – a sort of MBA for scientists.

One big advantage that French Polynesia has is that it seems to be able to produce more “ultras” per breeding cycle than its competitors.  Converting that to profitable business is down to managing the logistics.