Wild Caspian Caviar's Return: Good News for Eaters, Bad News for Sturgeons

The big news coming out of the Caspian region for those with fat wallets and the taste for the finer things in life is that, for the first time in two years, the winter and fall will see the availability of a fresh supply of wild Caspian caviar. Time to break out the blini? Not so fast, at least not if you're a sturgeon or someone concerned about the Caspian's delicate environmental balance. From a report in the New York Times:

There will be a fresh supply of wild caviar from the Caspian
Sea on holiday blini this fall and winter, for the first time in two years. The
international convention that regulates trade in endangered species issued
quotas for the catch on July 23.

The decision has prompted outcries from environmentalists,
predictions of lofty prices and soon, presumably, cheering from aficionados of
wild Caspian caviar. (Without quotas, the producing countries cannot legally
export any caviar at all.)

To establish the quotas, the five producing countries on the
Caspian Sea — Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan — must
agree on what they consider to be sustainable amounts, which they did last
spring in Tehran. The countries bordering the Black Sea, Danube basin and Amur
River did not set quotas, so there will be no caviar from those sources.

The total Caspian catch that can be exported from the
producing countries (there is no limit on domestic consumption) amounts to
about 81 tons: 17 tons of sevruga, 61 of osetra and 3 of beluga. In 2008 the
total was 95 tons, down from 200 in 2001, and much less than the 450 tons
shipped in 1990. The new quota covers fishing from March 1, 2010, to Feb. 28,

Ellen Pikitch, the executive director of the Institute for
Ocean Conservation Science at Stony
Brook University
, said: “The quotas should all have been zero for all of
these species.” She cited a reassessment of all sturgeon populations, released
in March by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a network
of environmental groups based in Switzerland, that determined that all Caspian
sturgeon were critically endangered. “That’s one step away from extinction,”
she said. “It’s ludicrous to allow any fishing.”

Indeed, the news of the renewed supply of wild Caspian caviar comes only a few months after  a major conservation group, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), declared Beluga sturgeon in the Caspian "critically endangered." From an article about that on the Science Daily website:

"For those of us who have been involved in studying the
rapid decline of this species over the past several decades, this reclassification
of beluga sturgeon is of great significance and relief," said Dr. Ellen
Pikitch, Professor and Executive Director of the Institute for Ocean
Conservation Science at Stony Brook University. "However, of even greater
significance is the IUCN reclassification of many sturgeons, which shows them
to be among the most imperiled animals on earth. A higher percentage of
sturgeon species were designated as critically endangered than any other group
of species assessed, including other fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and

Meanwhile, in other caviar-related news, a report in Japan's Asahi Shimbun suggests that the  strict controls on caviar exports have led to a domestic glut of the stuff in Iran and low, low prices. In response, the government is trying to boost domestic consumption of the fish roe, with a marketing campaign that touts caviar as "a nutritious new taste." Caviar for the masses, anyone?

Wild Caspian Caviar's Return: Good News for Eaters, Bad News for Sturgeons

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