"We do not have the regulatory tools to decipher aquaculture from wild caviar," said Dr. Phaedra Doukakis, a research scientist and sturgeon expert with the Pew Institute for Ocean Science. "It is imperative that these tools be developed so that aquaculture doesn't become a cover for illegally acquired wild caviar." Dr. Doukakis is also a specialist in genetic regulation of the caviar trade.
Caviar is a prized delicacy that can fetch more than $100 an ounce, and the Caspian Sea is home to beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), whose eggs are considered among the finest in the world. Sturgeon can grow up to 2,500 pounds and 15 feet long, and can take 15 years to reach reproductive age. Females of many sturgeon species reproduce only once every three to four years. Global demand for sturgeon eggs has prompted overfishing and rampant illegal trade. As a result, sturgeons are highly vulnerable to overfishing and unable to recover quickly.
Despite evidence that beluga sturgeon stocks have declined by a staggering 90 percent in the past 20 years, CITES' 2008 export quotas again permit the fish and their eggs to be harvested.
CITES resets the caviar export quotas every year, a system established to ensure that trade in sturgeon products is only permitted from sustainable fisheries. But much evidence indicates the quotas do not reflect the urgent need for protection and the rampant illegal harvest and trade.
In 2007, quotas for Caspian Sea beluga caviar were 3,761 kg and this year, they will remain equally high. The initial 2008 quotas announced in February had lowered the beluga caviar exports slightly, to 3,700 kg. However, the new quota announced Thursday allocates the additional 61 kg to Turkmenistan. Since the beluga population in the Caspian Sea has certainly not increased or stabilized since 2007, the quotas should be reduced to reflect this, according to Pew Institute scientists.
|Contact: Kathryn Cervino|
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science