Caviar in Short Supply

Poachers in Russia are killing off the world's caviar supply

It may be an appetizer you have just once a year, on New Year’s Eve, but this year a taste of millenni um caviar is going to be more of a luxury than ever. It’s not that people are hoarding it, or buying it by the bushels but the problem is poachers.

Sturgeons are being removed illegally from Caspian Sea. Sturgeons, the fish that provide the little black eggs, are mainly found in Russia. In fact, 80 percent of the world’s caviar in found in the Caspian Sea.

To control the poaching problem, two years ago tough new poaching rules were enacted under the International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but it doesn’t look like the new regulations are working. The only difference the poaching rules have had is on where poachers sell their catch. Instead of selling on the world market smugglers are selling their catch in Russia. The market in Russia is 10 times what it used to be and officials say at least a half a ton of caviar arrives every day on the Moscow market, much of it originating from poaching.

Poachers are not only capturing fish filled with caviar, they are destroying the market for years to come.

Miles of fine-mesh nets are stretched along the coasts of the Volga Delta and at sea. The bottom of the nets is fitted with double hooks and the fish are caught in the nets or torn to bits by the hooks. The nets are not picky on which fish they catch. So poachers are killing young and old fish, fish with caviar and without.

The local coast guard service is poorly equipped and inadequately manned so they aren’t able to stop the illegal activity.

The poaching is getting so bad in the Caspian Sea; Russia may be forced to ban sturgeon fishing by the year 2002. Some say this will only increase the illegal activity in the area and increase the black market activity.

As you may expect, the poaching is eating away at the supply and the costs are going up. The average price for two pounds of caviar was 250 dollars two years ago, now it’s between 350 and 425 dollars. This New Year supermarkets, will be able to get caviar but they will have less than in previous years and it will cost much more.

Because the future of sturgeons in Russia is uncertain other countries are stepping into the caviar market.

Businesses in France, Italy and the Czech Republic are beginning to bred sturgeon and are already providing 10 tons of caviar to the market every year. This is only five percent of the total market, but their numbers will increase as the year’s progress.

Source: Associated Press

DATE: 11/17/99

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