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December 11, 2017

The Bureaucracy Fights Back

With our successful meeting with the President and legislature of French Polynesia completed we were flying high. Subsequently, we were successful in getting laws changed that would allow us to eventually export small cultured clams and had some possible glimmer of hope we could maybe eventually start a coral farm

MAC TERZICH, DVM, ACPV

With our successful meeting with the President and legislature of French Polynesia completed we were flying high. Subsequently, we were successful in getting laws changed that would allow us to eventually export small cultured clams and had some possible glimmer of hope we could maybe eventually start a coral farm with all the odd and interesting corals we collected.

We busily started to gather all the supplies needed to get the clam farm up and running. We decided on a simple plan of collecting the spawn of mature clams on screens and grow those out to eventually have cultured clams ready for export within a couple years that would be at least a couple inches in length. In the meantime we would continue to export wild clams to sustain the business and my partner would teach himself how to net collect some popular fish such as Black Tangs, Flame Hawkfish, Whitetailed Bristletooth Tangs, and more. We also prepared cement mounts for coral propagation and I showed my partner how to cut and glue corals.

"We continued to collect a few more wild clams and I was amazed to see my first Chimera clam, or as the locals call them, a “two-faced” clam. "

We continued to collect a few more wild clams and I was amazed to see my first Chimera clam, or as the locals call them, a “two-faced” clam. These clams have two different colors on the same clam, one side of the mantle is one color and the other side is a completely different color. They are quite rare with maybe one found in every couple thousand collected. They are certainly spectacular!

By the end of my two-week trip to Tahiti we had accomplished more than I could have imagined. We had collected several hundred maxima clams including a couple Chimera and had those nearly ready for export. We had set up and conditioned the clam and fish holding systems and a separate system to treat the fish before export. We had established a detailed procedure with freshwater dips and copper antibiotic treatments for all fish so they would be parasite free and eating before export. Even though I had never collected tropical fish in the wild, I suggested to my partner that maybe he would be more successful in collecting some fish at night with a powerful light. I knew that in an aquarium if you shined a light on fish in a darkened tank it would temporarily blind them so if he did the same at night he would be able to collect many more fish. For example he was collecting about 20 Flame Hawkfish a day and struggling with being cost effective, after trying the night collection method he was able to collect 200-300 each night. We also had several hundred coral frags prepared and starting to grow. Upon my departure we were cautiously optimistic of someday being able to export these rare corals never before seen outside the remote islands on French Polynesia and likely never even seen by the vast majority of the natives either!

After my return to the US we started importing the wild collected clams. They arrived in great condition with very few losses. We housed them in our greenhouse under natural sunlight and they did quite well. At times we had over a thousand maxima clams at our facility and periodically posted videos on YouTube of our amazing clams. My partner would travel to various small remote islands and we found that the clams around each island had different colors, some being more metallic than others, and others having completely different patterns. Over the coming years I was able to identify the island they were collected from just by the clam’s appearance!

My partner began to collect more fish and less clams and eventually he found that the fish were in such high demand that his profitability was better than with clams and he turned over clam collection to the native local divers. Because these local divers were use to collecting the clams for food they were less careful about tearing the delicate foot. Over time these wild collected clams started to have more problems and losses on our side mounted. Luckily our farmed clams became available and as planned we stopped collecting and exporting wild clams and switched to cultured clams. The cultured clams had the same beautiful colors, but were much hardier and easier to transport than the larger wild collected clams. However, because we culture the clams in shallow lagoons they are subject to some seasonal availability. The shallow waters heat up dramatically during their summer months and the clams are too stressed to ship. This is the reason we do not always have cultured clams available for sale. If we fast forward to today and look back at our clam project we would say it has been a success. We are now able to acquire and sell beautiful, hardy, and easy to keep cultured maxima clams that are about 2-3.5 inches.

Our efforts with starting a coral farm have been sidetracked. Originally we received full support by the local French Polynesian government. However, France never was able to secure the CITES permits needed to export corals and with inevitable changes to local government the project had been postponed. Eventually it was dictated that a multi-year environmental impact study be completed by a local Tahitian university before any further work could be done on coral propagation, that study is ongoing.  The bureaucracy had caught up with us!

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