Maxima Pearling Company Celebrates 3 Decades

Last month Kimberley based Australian South Sea pearling company, Maxima Pearling Company celebrated 30 years in business.

The journey began in 1987 when the late Graeme Hutton, Exploration Geologist, established Maxima Pearling Company (Maxima), with David Jackson, an industry experienced skipper, at the helm. The company’s first purchase was a blast from the past – an original pearling lugger named the “DMcD”. The lugger’s first task was to establish the long-line pearl culture site at Cone Bay, in the Buccaneer Archipelago, Kimberley region of WA.  The small crew of five operated from within the cramped confines of the “DMcD” until the company gained the long-term lease on Cone Bay’s Turtle Island.

DMcD pearling lugger – the company’s first vessel purchase

Maxima’s pearling operations commenced in 1988, with an initial 10,000 wild shell pearling licence from the warm productive waters off the rugged Kimberley coast.  The first years were tough, and crew often slept in swags and battled hot, sand-fly infested conditions whilst working 15-hour days. The average roster consisted of a grueling eight weeks on and one week off with jobs including cleaning shell of barnacle and growth.

It was in 1991 when Maxima celebrated the first pearl harvest and established the company’s reputable brand amongst the south sea pearl market. The pearls were, and still are today, recognised for their white lustre, clean skins and pinkish hues.

Maxima’s pearls are renowned for their white lustre, clean skins and pinkish hues

In 1996, Maxima established a fully operational hatchery on Turtle Island, investing in specialist personnel and equipment, and quickly establishing the reputation as a premium supplier of hatchery produced pearl spat.

With a focus on Research and Development, Maxima recruited trained specialist algologists, hatchery technicians and marine biologists.  The company initiated scientific site monitoring of the local waters and continuously improving husbandry techniques, including the improvement of the quality of Maxima’s pearl product.

The remoteness of Cone Bay and Turtle Island mean Maxima crew change shifts by float plane.

Enter the 2000’s where the pearling industry was in full flight and Maxima continued to expand its operations by acquiring further wild and hatchery shell quota. But it would be a global market down turn, not much less than a decade away, which would decimate the pearling industry. It didn’t take long for pearl prices to suffer the impact of the Global Financial Crisis from 2009. That impact is still being felt today with industry Gross Value of Product (GVP) still at rock bottom.

Along with the company’s pearl quota expansion Maxima also recognised the need to diversify and applied for additional aquaculture licenced areas in Cone Bay.  The company had commenced research into additional species for aquaculture production and in 1998 commenced Tiger Prawn brood-stock spawning trials, with a licence to produce Black Tiger Prawns in the Cone Bay Hatchery and at the Broome Aquaculture Park.  The successful Tiger Prawn project was then publicly listed and expanded with the establishment of a grow-out facility in Darwin, trading as Tiger International.

The Joseph Conrad – Maxima designed and built – now part of the Paspaley fleet.

Next innovation for Maxima was Barramundi, and in 2002 with a diversified licence to conduct aquaculture, Maxima commenced sea cage grow out trials in Cone Bay. This project, now owned by Marine Produce Australia, is the largest sea cage Barramundi farm in Australia. The quality of the fish is recognised nationally by numerous industry awards, and features on menus of the best restaurants in Australia. International recognition led to a large food conglomerate out of Singapore recently completing a multi-million dollar purchase of the operations.

Turtle Island – Maxima Pearling Company operations base in Cone Bay

Maxima Pearling Company continues to re-invest to create industry opportunities in the local region, and holds a positive reputation for relationships with and commitment to local indigenous traditional owner groups. The recently established Aarli Mayi Aquaculture project is a unique joint venture between the Maxima Opportunity group and three traditional owner groups, the Dambimangari, Bardi Jawi Numiidiman and the Mayala Aboriginal Corporations. The project has a 5,000 tonne per annum production licence and lease for fin fish in the Kimberley Aquaculture Development Zone in Cone Bay.

Irene Davey and John Hutton discuss the ‘Aarli Mayi Aquaculture Project’ at One Arm Point

A small crew resides on Turtle Island to manage the husbandry and ongoing research and development program, including the latest project, Edible Rock Oysters, currently being trialed by the company in Cone Bay and the Pilbara, extending Maxima Pearling Company’s pearling and aquaculture operations from the Kimberley to the Pilbara regions of WA.

Edible Rock Oysters are currently being trialed by the Company in Cone Bay and the Pilbara

Separate to the diversified aquaculture projects, Maxima continues to operate its pearling leases in Cone Bay, contracting other pearling companies to fish its wild shell quota and supply pearl shell for the farming operations.

The first Maxima Pearling Company harvest in 1991 was led by Graeme together with loyal staff and family all pitching in. Now, 30 years after commencing operations it was a family harvest again, this time led by daughter, Melanie and her husband Peter Carrington. With Melanie as the harvesting technician and Peter in charge of Operations and a crew of three, it was all family (including their kids this time) on deck.  The sorting and grading of the pearl harvest was completed by Melanie with her mother Denise Hutton and brother William.

It’s a family affair – all are involved in the company including the kids!

Melanie Carrington – Director (daughter of Graeme) – harvesting Pearl Technician

Maxima Pearling Company is extremely happy with the harvest, particularly the size, colour and skin of the harvested pearls; and excitedly for Maxima, the success of the recent harvest confirms the Cone Bay pearling lease area continues to be favourable for healthy oyster growth and pearl production.

The Hutton family owned and operated Maxima Pearling Company celebrates 30 years in business as a successful, genuine producer of beautiful Australian South Sea pearls, a contributor to the economy and provider of employment with a focus on expansion that benefits the wider community.  Maxima Pearling Company continues to operate in the local region and with pearling, aquaculture, edible oysters and an ongoing Research and Development program, the next 30 years is well underway.

Here is to the next 30 years of Maxima Pearling Company.