Caspian Sea countries set to resume caviar trade - UNEP

Caspian Sea countries set to resume caviar trade - UNEP

Russian sturgeon
Caspian Sea countries have launched a coordinated programme for surveying and managing sturgeon stocks, paving the way for a resumption of the $100 million caviar industry, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today.

Caspian Sea countries have launched a coordinated programme for surveying and managing sturgeon stocks, paving the way for a resumption of the $100 million caviar industry, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today.

"For the first time, the Caspian Sea's wild sturgeon populations are being managed through a unified system rather than through competing national systems," said Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty that is administered in Geneva by UNEP.

The resumption in caviar sales will bring in much-needed funding so that the hatcheries vital to the sturgeons' long-term survival can be expanded, Mr. Wijnstekers said, though he cautioned that the crisis was not over and greater efforts were needed to combat illegal fishing and corruption.

The legal caviar trade has been estimated to be worth some $100 million annually, with the price of 1 kilogramme of caviar on the wholesale market ranging from $500 on up to $1,000 for legal beluga.

CITES halted the caviar trade by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation in June 2001 and gave the four countries until the end of the year to conduct a scientific survey of stocks and develop a common management plan.

They now have until 20 June to establish a long-term survey programme and to increase significantly their efforts to combat illegal harvesting and trade and to regulate domestic trade. While the fifth Caspian nation, Iran, was not subject to the caviar ban, it too has joined the regional effort.

Until 1991, the former Soviet Union and Iran virtually controlled the caviar market, investing heavily in maintaining fish stocks. With the demise of the USSR, the system collapsed, and many entrepreneurs dealing in "black gold" sprang up to the replace the state-owned companies.

The Caspian once accounted for 95 per cent of world caviar, although this proportion has fallen closer to 90 per cent. Official catch levels fell from a peak of about 30,000 tonnes in the late 1970s to less than one tenth that figure 20 years later. Reduced river flow, destroyed spawning sites, corruption, poaching, organized crime and illicit trade all contributed to the decline.