Focus: Caviar

Worth Saving

Worth Saving

May. 14, 2013

However, the popularity of caviar has put pressure on commercial stocks of sturgeon in the Caspian. The collapse of the Soviet Union saw the illegal poaching of sturgeon fish expand on an epic scale, such that the main varieties of sturgeon involved in caviar production are now being regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). From a high point of some 3,000 tons of caviar produced from the Caspian Sea back in the 1980s, present exports from the region are thought to amount to as little as 100 tons or less, though accounting for the illegal poaching of sturgeon makes the real number difficult to estimate.

In order to take pressure off native stocks of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, Iran is actively increasing the proportion of caviar produced through cultured means, as well as supporting efforts to boost wild sturgeon numbers. According to the Vice-Minister and President of Shilat, Gholemreza Razeghi, some 3.6 million fingerling sturgeons were released into the wild over the 2010-2011 financial year, while this figure grew to 4.8 million over 2011-2012. In the financial year ending in March 2012, Iran's output of cultured caviar from farmed fish rose 10 fold to 100 kilograms. To speed up the development of the aquaculture industry and support sturgeon numbers in the Caspian, up to 12 new caviar farms are expected to come into production over FY2012-2013. And the production coming from these new aquaculture facilities may come just in time to maintain the world-renowned trademark of Iranian caviar.

At the 32nd meeting of the Commission on Aquatic Bio Resources of the Caspian Sea, held in Baku in December 2011, representatives of the littoral states—Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan—agreed to a one-year moratorium on the commercial fishing of sturgeon, though many national representatives are seeking a longer-term ban to allow natural stocks to recover. The deputy head of the Iran Fisheries Organization, Ali Askar Mujahideeni, announced at the Commission that Iran was looking favorably on initiating a five-year ban at least to boost sturgeon numbers. At the same meeting, representatives from both Russia and Azerbaijan expressed their support for an even longer moratorium of up to 10 years to better reflect the life cycle of the key commercial sturgeon varieties.

For its part, Iran is looking at further means to help support the tradition of caviar production, including increasing environmental regulations on water discharges into the Caspian Sea, as well as imposing strong sentences on poachers and those caught selling illegal caviar. Although the road to boosting sturgeon numbers and Caspian caviar may be long, it is one that only the joint efforts of the Caspian's littoral states can succeed in achieving.