Silverlip Pearl Oyster (2018)

Pinctada maxima

  • Anthony Hart (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia)
  • Thor Saunders (Department of Primary Industry and Resources, Northern Territory)
  • Luke Albury (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)

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The Silverlip Pearl Oyster is the largest species in the pearl oyster family. It also produces the largest pearls. Australia has three stocks of Silverlip Pearl Oyster. WA and QLD each have a sustainable stock. Stock in the NT is undefined.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
Western Australia Western Australia POMF Sustainable CPUE,  recruitment surveys, population surveys, biomass prediction modelling
Pearl Oyster Managed Fishery (WA)
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Stock Structure

Pinctada maxima or the Silverlip Pearl Oyster is the largest species in the pearl oyster family [Shirai 1994], and produces the largest pearls. It is distributed within the central Indo-Pacific region, bounded by the Bay of Bengal to the west, Solomon Islands to the east, Taiwan to the north, and Northern Australia to the south [Southgate et al. 2008], at depths from the shallow sub-tidal to more than 50 m. Within Australia, the population genetic distribution has been investigated in Western Australia and Northern Territory [Benzie et al. 2006]. The biological stock structure is uncertain; however, Western Australian stocks are generally considered to be one stock (with the possible exception of a localised population in Exmouth Gulf), separate from stocks in the Northern Territory. The biological stock structure for Queensland is unknown.

Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the jurisdictional level—Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland.

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Stock Status

Western Australia

The Western Australian Pearl Oyster Managed Fishery is the only remaining significant wild stock fishery for pearl oysters in the world. It is a quota-based dive fishery, operating in shallow coastal waters along the north-west shelf or North Coast Bioregion. The harvest method is drift diving, in which six–eight divers are attached to large outrigger booms on a vessel and towed slowly over the pearl oyster beds, harvesting legal sized oysters by hand as they are seen. The species targeted is the Indo-Pacific, Silverlip Pearl Oyster (P. maxima). The Western Australian pearling industry comprises three main components: the collection of pearl oysters from the wild; production of hatchery-reared pearl oysters and the seeding of pearls, followed by grow-out of pearl oysters on pearl farm leases. Quota limits are set for the take of pearl oysters from the wild to ensure the long-term sustainability of the resource. Quota in 2017 was 612 550 oysters, which resulted in a harvest of 143 tonnes (t).

In the Western Australian Fishery, the standardised catch per unit effort (CPUE) increased by 200 per cent between 2003 and 2010, declined to 2015, and increased to 2017. It is currently above the target reference level in the harvest strategy [DoF 2016]. The large fluctuation in standardized CPUE was due to an order of magnitude variation in recruitment. Recruitment in this fishery is measured using a spat settlement index (oysters aged 0+ years and 1+ years) and the large recruitment variability is caused by environmental variation, which also affects the fishing efficiency of the pearl oyster fleet [Hart et al. 2011]. The stock-prediction model, which uses the spat settlement index to predict future stock abundance, is forecasting an increase in standardized CPUE in 2018. Additional data, including population surveys, show that breeding stock levels are also currently above the target reference point [DPIRD 2016]. On the basis of this evidence, the biomass of the Western Australian pearl oyster fishery is unlikely to be recruitment overfished.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, Silverlip Pearl Oyster in Western Australia is classified as a sustainable stock.

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Silverlip Pearl Oyster biology [Hart and Joll 2006]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Silverlip Pearl Oyster 30 years, 250 mm DVM  Males: 2–3 years, 110 mm DVM Females: 7–8 years, 175 mm DVM
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Silverlip Pearl Oyster
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Fishing methods
Western Australia
Management methods
Method Western Australia
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial zoning
Total allowable catch
Western Australia
Commercial 142.04t in POMF
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational No Catch
Pearl Oyster Managed Fishery (WA)

Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) In Queensland, under the Fisheries Act 1994 (Qld), Indigenous fishers are able to use prescribed traditional and non-commercial fishing apparatus in waters open to fishing. Size and possession limits, and seasonal closures do not apply to Indigenous fishers. Further exemptions to fishery regulations may be applied for through permits.

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Silverlip Pearl Oyster - note confidential catch not shown
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  1. Benzie, JAH and Smith-Keune, C 2006, Microsatellite variation in Australian and Indonesian pearl oyster Pinctada maxima populations. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 314: 197–211.
  2. DoF 2016, Western Australian Silver-Lipped Pearl Oyster (Pinctada maxima) Resource Harvest Strategy 2016–2021, v1. Fisheries Management Paper No. 276.
  3. Hart AM, Thomson AW and Murphy D 2011, Environmental influences on stock abundance and fishing power in the silver-lipped pearl oyster fishery. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 68(3): 444–53.
  4. Hart, AM and Joll, L 2006, Growth, mortality, recruitment, and sex ratio in wild stocks of the silver-lipped pearl oyster Pinctada maxima (Jameson) (Mollusca: Pteriidae) in Western Australia. Journal of Shellfish Research, 25 (1): 201–210.
  5. Knuckey, IA 1995, The Northern Territory Pearl Oyster Fishery. FRDC final report 1991/14. 47 pp.
  6. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 2018, Queensland Stock Status Assessment Workshop Proceedings 2018. Species Summaries. 19–20 June 2018, Brisbane.
  7. Shirai, S 1994, Pearls and pearl oysters of the world. Marine Planning Co. Japan. 95 pp. (in Japanese and English).
  8. Southgate PC, Strack E, Hart AM, Wada KT, Monteforte M, Carino M, Langy S, Lo C, Acosta-Salmon H and Wang A 2008, Chapter 9: Exploitation and Culture of Major Commercial Species. pp. 303–56. In: The Pearl Oyster, Eds Southgate PC and Lucas J, Elsevier London.

Downloadable reports

Click the links below to view reports from other years for this fish.