In The Hague at the CITES Conference:
Julia Roberson [email protected]

In the United States:
Shannon Crownover [email protected]


Environmentalists are alarmed at continued delays in protection of endangered beluga sturgeon

(Geneva, March 18, 2004) - Over the objections of environmentalists and scientists, CITES today granted an extension of three more months for the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to fulfill the requirements of an international agreement on sturgeon conservation. The Caspian states had faced a possible ban on their international caviar trade, so the CITES reprieve means the spring fishing season, the biggest of the year, will go forward.

The Caspian states’ compliance with the “Paris Agreement” of 2001, whose deadlines expired at the end of 2003, was discussed in today’s closed-door session of the 50th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee. Under that agreement, the four states were required to make significant improvements in science, management and enforcement related to depleted sturgeon populations.

Caviar Emptor, a coalition of three organizations seeking to protect and restore endangered Caspian Sea sturgeon, reports little apparent progress in several crucial areas of the Paris Agreement and had urged CITES this week to immediately suspend international trade of beluga caviar from the four countries, as provided for in the agreement.

Caviar Emptor is particularly concerned by the Caspian states’ lack of significant steps in meeting the agreement’s directives to adopt a collaborative, basin-wide management system for sturgeon; establish a long-term, modernized survey program; and combat illegal trade. After hearing CITES’ decision, the groups criticized further postponement of the trade ban, saying the states had previously been granted more than a year’s extension.

“We are very disappointed that CITES has once again delayed protection of critically imperiled beluga sturgeon,” said Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a member of Caviar Emptor along with SeaWeb and the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science. “The clock has been ticking now for three years. It’s time for the Secretariat take action and impose a trade ban until the Caspian states have gotten their act together.”

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. Recent beluga stock surveys indicate the Caspian Sea population plummeted by almost 40 percent between 2001 and 2002 (results of the 2003 survey have not yet been made available to the public) as indicated by the number of beluga sturgeon caught per trawl.

Vikki Spruill, president of SeaWeb, said: “Beluga sturgeon’s downward spiral continues at an alarming pace, and each day that passes is a day closer to extinction for this fish.”

The environmentalists noted that the three-month extension will encompass the entire spring fishing season, which usually accounts for 70 to 80 percent of the annual sturgeon catch.

“Fishing continues unimpeded in the Caspian region,” said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, professor and executive director of the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science. “CITES’ decision to forgo a ban on trade now, at the start of the main fishing season, places an endangered species in further jeopardy.”

A delay in protecting beluga sturgeon has also come from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which missed its January 31 deadline for a final decision on its proposal to list beluga sturgeon as an endangered species - a decision that would result in a ban on imports of beluga caviar to the United States, the world’s largest importer of the delicacy. Caviar Emptor originally petitioned the government to protect beluga sturgeon under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in December 2000.

For interviews with spokespeople, please contact Shannon Crownover ([email protected]) or Sunny Wu ([email protected], 202-483-9570).


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