Geoscience Reference
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6 tons 17cwt 1 qtr to 5 tons 15 cwt 2 qtr. Also, by 1893, a larger area was being
fished for pearl-shell. Despite those changes, by 1894 the yield was stationary at
1,190 tons; by the following year the total harvest had fallen to 873 tons. By 1895,
another source of pearl-shell had been found in Princess Charlotte Bay, but that
resource was of inferior quality and may have contributed to a reduction in the
market price for pearl-shell (Mackay, 1908, p. lxix).
The Royal Commission collected anecdotal evidence of the decline in pearl
oysters using qualitative interviewing. The evidence suggested that the 'shallow
beds inshore and those in the intermediate neighbourhood of the Prince of Wales
group were the first to show signs of having been over-fished' (Mackay, 1908, pl).
The causes of that depletion were thought to include the following eight reasons:
ignorance about the length of time required for pearl-shell to mature;
a belief that the supply was inexhaustible;
the desire of pearl-shellers to raise as much shell as possible in the shortest
space of time;
the introduction of floating stations, which concentrated the work of the
excessive use of vessels;
the introduction of many Asian divers;
the lack of periodic closures of the fisheries; and
the reduction in size limits, from six to five inches (nacre measurement).
The Royal Commission concluded that the pearl-shell fishery was 'suffering from
severe depression, which has resulted mainly from depletion of natural supplies';
consequently, urgent initiatives to cultivate the pearl oyster and to restrict the
overseas labour force were required (Mackay, 1908, pp. li-lii, lxxv).
Another investigation into the industry - the 1913 Commonwealth of Australia
Royal Commission on the Pearl-Shelling Industry (1913, p591) - found that the
pearl-shell fishery was still 'capable, if systematically and scientifically conducted,
of considerable development'. Individual pearl-shell divers were rewarded for large
harvests using a system of incentives; the average annual harvest per diver was
between six and seven tons, but divers were encouraged to take up to ten tons each
year, and successful divers received a higher salary per ton. This system resulted in
a large increase in the total pearl-shell yields during the periods 1911-1913 and
1918-1929; the yields obtained during the latter period were never exceeded in
Queensland (NADC, 1946, p11). From 1912 to 1918, the value of pearl-shell
had risen from £92,576 to £168,000, while the value of pearls during the same
period increased from £25,000 to £63,000 (Taylor, 1925, p218). Nevertheless, after
1927, the industry declined as a result of the scarcity of pearl oysters. Between
1930 and 1934, the pearl-shell harvest decreased sharply and, subsequently, only a
moderate improvement in yields occurred. In an attempt by the Commonwealth
Government to support the struggling industry, a grant of £1,500 was made in 1935
to the Queensland fishery. In 1936, Christesen (1936, p31) wrote that the only
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