Pearl oyster storage godown in a state of neglect

June 09, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 04:40 am IST

Pearl and chank divers want this building to be preserved

The pearl oyster storage godown in Thoothukudi.Photo : N.Rajesh

The pearl oyster storage godown in Thoothukudi.Photo : N.Rajesh

The pearl oyster godown at Threspuram here is a remnant of the past that earned Thoothukudi its sobriquet, Pearl City.

This city has a rich history of pearl fishery and pearl farming. The century-old godown, which once buzzed with activity, is in a state of neglect now. Concerned pearl and chank divers have appealed to the government to preserve it.

Pearl divers’ contribution to the State exchequer on the basis of pearl oyster collection was significant in the past, recalls S. Paramasivan, president, Muthu Sangu Kooturavu Sangam, Threspuram.

Fisheries department office was started here in 1909 to monitor pearl oyster collection. Pearl oysters collected by divers were shared with the government.

The government’s share was stored in this godown guarded by police before auction. Workers were engaged in sorting pearl oysters by their quality, colour and size in this godown.

Sources told The Hindu that 44 tonnes of iron materials were dumped in the godown several years back when there was a plan to have a boat building yard in Thoothukudi.

According to Joe Austin, marine biologist, Thoothukudi pearl oysters were considered state monopoly in those days.

They could not be fished out of sea without permission from the Fisheries Department. Before allowing fishing of pearl oyster, pearl banks were periodically inspected for oyster settlements and their size and growth were recorded. There were eight pearl banks in the Gulf of Mannar along the Indian coast. The inspection was carried out by an Inspector of Pearl Banks who certified their worthiness to be fished out. The collected oysters were shared between the government and divers, who collected them.

The sharing of oysters was decided by a government official, who was called the bag examiner.

The government’s share of oysters was auctioned at the end of the collection. Those interested in taking the oysters deposited 10 % their tentative value to participate in the auction. The oysters purchased were allowed to die and decay for a week’s time and washed in huge tanks for separating pearls from the decaying flesh. The natural pearls collected were sold to buyers and smaller ones with blemishes were sold for medicinal use. As per old records, 38 instances of pearl fishing took place between 1663 and 1961, Mr. Joe Austin said.

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