RESUMPTION OF CASPIAN CAVIAR TRADE COULD MEAN EXTINCTION FOR IMPERILED BELUGA STURGEON

Conservation groups will urge trade officials to reconsider approval of beluga caviar trade at CITES meeting in Geneva next week

(March 7, 2002) -- Yesterday's announcement by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that the Caspian Sea states could resume the caviar trade has been met with alarm by scientists and conservation organizations seeking to restore the beluga sturgeon, which is on the brink of extinction.

"The decision to allow continued trade in beluga caviar will take the remarkable, yet critically imperiled beluga sturgeon one step closer to oblivion," said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, Director of Marine Programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society. "Beluga sturgeon simply cannot support any fishing or trade, now or in the foreseeable future."

Citing the fish's 20-year downward spiral and a recently released scientific report that further documents the perilous state of beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, the three conservation groups of the Caviar Emptor campaign have reiterated their call for an immediate and sustained halt in international trade of beluga caviar.

The Caviar Emptor partners - Wildlife Conservation Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, and SeaWeb - will urge CITES' officials to reconsider their approval of a resumption in beluga caviar trade at its policy-making committee meeting in Geneva next week. Export quotas for caviar of several Caspian Sea sturgeon species were announced yesterday by CITES, with overall Caspian beluga caviar exports reduced by a small fraction from the previous year.

"The trade reductions announced this week are too little, too late for beluga sturgeon," said Lisa Speer, Senior Policy Analyst of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The decision to resume the beluga caviar trade is another nail in the coffin for this fish."

The most recent scientific documentation of beluga sturgeon's dramatic decline is a survey published last month by Caspian Environment Programme (CEP), an internationally funded regional organization, which found only 28 beluga sturgeon in the entire survey region, of which 85 percent were juveniles. The CEP report also shows that in just the past seven years, there has been more than a 40 percent decline in mature beluga sturgeon in the northern part of the Caspian Sea, and it shows no evidence of mature beluga sturgeon in the middle and southern Caspian.

"The beluga sturgeon has been called the most valuable fish in the world because of its coveted caviar," said Vikki Spruill, president of SeaWeb. "It is more important now than ever for consumers to realize that it is in 'bad taste' to eat the eggs of an endangered species. The alternative may be the loss of a magnificent species that has existed since the time of dinosaurs."

Overfishing and illegal trade to supply the global caviar market, along with habitat loss and pollution, have decimated sturgeon populations of the Caspian Sea. It is widely believed that beluga sturgeon no longer reproduce in the wild. For more than a year, Caviar Emptor has been recommending a halt to the trade of beluga caviar as a key to the survival of the beluga sturgeon. The groups also support the long-term reduction of export quotas for other Caspian Sea sturgeon, and international funding for ongoing stock assessments and improved management and enforcement practices.

The U.S. government is currently considering a petition filed by Caviar Emptor organizations to list beluga sturgeon under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), which would have the effect of banning the importation of beluga caviar into the United States. The Natural Resources Defense Council has notified the U.S. government of its intent to sue if it fails to act on the ESA petition. The United States is the world's largest importer of beluga caviar.

In addition, the three groups are calling on consumers worldwide to avoid beluga caviar and to reduce their consumption of other Caspian Sea caviars during this crisis. If consumers do buy caviar, better choices include environmentally sound farmed varieties.

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For more information or interviews with Caviar Emptor spokespeople, please contact Shannon Crownover (shannon@seaweb.org) or Sunny Wu (swu@seaweb.org) at 202-483-9570.  For a complete report on the decline of Caspian Sea sturgeon, see www.caviaremptor.org.

 

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