Media Alert
March 11, 2004


Environmentalists see little progress; urge CITES to impose ban on beluga caviar trade to protect imperiled beluga sturgeon

At next week's 50th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, the CITES Secretariat is scheduled to report on the sturgeon conservation requirements set forth in the “Paris Agreement” of June 2001. Under that agreement, a ban on international trade of Caspian caviar was threatened if Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan did not significantly improve science, management and enforcement related to depleted sturgeon populations. The agreement's deadlines expired on Dec. 31, 2003, and environmental organizations working to restore the species report little apparent progress in several crucial areas.

The Caviar Emptor coalition will attend next week's CITES meeting and will urge officials to impose a ban on trade in beluga caviar if the obligations of the Paris Agreement have not been fully met. Caviar Emptor, founded in 2000 to protect endangered Caspian Sea sturgeon, is a partnership of three U.S. NGOs: SeaWeb, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the University of Miami's Pew Institute for Ocean Science.

Monday, March 15 to Friday, March 19. According to the CITES agenda, a report on sturgeon is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Centre international de conférences de Genève (CICG)
Rue de Varembé 15, Geneva, Switzerland

The global caviar market has placed a premium on Caspian sturgeons, prompting overfishing and illegal trade that have driven the ancient species to the brink of extinction. Of most concern is beluga sturgeon, whose population has declined by 90 percent in the past 20 years and which scientists believe can no longer withstand fishing pressure. CITES started regulating the caviar trade in 1998, and in 2001 as global concern grew, CITES pushed the Caspian states to commit to sturgeon conservation. The most important components of the CITES Paris Agreement, and the ones where environmentalists see the least progress, are the requirements that the states must adopt a collaborative basin-level management system for sturgeon, increase efforts to combat illegal harvesting and illegal trade, and establish a long-term survey program.

Caspian states are meeting in Moscow this week to try to reach agreement on NEWS 2004 sturgeon catch and caviar export quotas. Early indications are that the states will ask for a quota increase, despite evidence of a continued downward trend in sturgeon populations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list beluga sturgeon as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. If listed, beluga caviar imports to the United States, the world's biggest importer, would be prohibited. The Service missed its final decision deadline of Jan. 31, 2004. Ken Stansell, the Service's assistant director for international affairs, is also the chairman of the CITES Standing Committee and is scheduled to attend next week's meeting.

To obtain a copy of the Paris Agreement or for interviews with Caviar Emptor INFO policy and science experts, contact Shannon Crownover ([email protected]) or Sunny Wu ([email protected], 202-483-9570). For more information on the decline of Caspian sturgeon, go to


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