Delegates at a meeting on endangered species have voted overwhelmingly to place time limits on the international caviar trade in a bid to halt illegal products from reaching global markets, the United Nations environment agency (UNEP) said today.
The move came in Bangkok where the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which seeks to ensure that global trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival, is holding its 13th Conference of Parties through tomorrow. UNEP staffs the treaty’s operations.
The new rules require caviar processed this year to be exported by 31 March 2005. From 2006 onwards, all caviar must be exported in the same year that it is produced, with no opportunity to “carry over” stocks from one year to the next. In addition, there can be no re-exports of caviar more than 18 months in age, another loophole that illicit traders have used.
Until now, traders in illegal caviar were able to fraudulently declare that their product was caught during previous years and avoid the annual quota limits set by CITES, exploiting a loophole that allowed sturgeon-range States to carry over remaining stocks from the year of harvest while claiming that they had already been exported.
These declarations having been accepted, traders then process fresh caviar obtained from sturgeons that have been caught by poachers and “launder” it into international markets where it fetches high prices.
“This is a major victory in the war against the caviar criminals,” said CITES Deputy Secretary-General Jim Armstrong. “This will bring stability to the caviar trade and close the door on the criminal opportunists who have engaged in large-scale fraud.”
In a meeting on the Conference sidelines, Caspian Sea countries invited experts from the CITES secretariat to join a working group drafting a regional action plan to fight poachers and illegal traders.
The trade in sturgeon products, especially caviar, has a long history of criminal involvement with close links with organized crime groups, UNEP said. Fishery protection officers in the Caspian Sea regularly face violence from poachers and CITES officials have met staff who have had hand grenades thrown into their patrol vessels by poachers avoiding arrest.