Bring on the beluga: UN-backed body lifts ban on finest caviar

Bring on the beluga: UN-backed body lifts ban on finest caviar

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The United Nations-backed body overseeing a global treaty governing trade in endangered species has lifted a year-long ban on beluga caviar, the world’s most expensive, after Caspian Sea countries agreed to reduce the catch quota by 29 per cent compared with 2005, the last year for which quotas were approved.

The move by the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which sets the beluga export quota at 3,761 kilos, follows by a month the lifting of the ban on other types of caviar, with a quota 15 per cent below that of 2005, and forms part of long-term efforts to reverse the impact of decades of over-fishing.

The 2006 ban was imposed when the five Caspian countries – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – failed to provide information needed to ensure the fish’s survival.

The small quotas reflect the population trend of the species. According to information presented by the Caspian States, populations continue to fall. Consequently, the Secretariat will be immediately referring the matter to the CITES Animals Committee, which has been given the authority by the 169 CITES Member States to undertake reviews of the sustainability of trade authorized under CITES rules.

“The Caspian States have stepped up their efforts to control the caviar trade and to release millions of young fish into the sea, but the decline in populations cannot be allowed to continue,” CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers said.

“The CITES Secretariat does not have the authority to reject or amend quotas that have been submitted according to the agreed rules, but the Secretariat will be using all the tools at its disposal to bring this trade onto a more sustainable footing,” he added.

He called for increased controls in importing countries such as labelling and trader registration systems to help demonstrate the legal origin of caviar and provide for consumers a confirmation that what they are buying is genuine and produced in a sustainable manner.

“Safeguarding the future of wild sturgeons depends on international collaboration and cooperation,” Mr. Wijnstekers said. “Shops, restaurants, airlines and cruise ships; everywhere that caviar can be found - these outlets need strict regulation.”

As caviar stocks continued to decline through the 1990s, the Parties to CITES placed all sturgeon species that remained unlisted on a special appendix to ensure that all exports of caviar and other sturgeon products comply with strict treaty provisions, including the use of permits and specific labelling requirements.

In 2001, CITES responded to high levels of poaching and illegal trade with a temporary ban. Extensive discussions and stronger actions by the five states were required before the annual quotas could be agreed for 2002 to 2005. With the agreement of these States, the rules on how to set quotas under CITES have become increasingly rigorous.

To have proposed quotas published, countries with shared sturgeon stocks must agree on catch and export quotas based on scientific surveys of stocks. They must also adopt a regional conservation strategy, combat illegal fishing and demonstrate that their proposed catch and export quotas reflect current population trends and are sustainable.