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

In the United States:
Shannon Crownover [email protected]


Fate of precious red coral and wild black caviar trade to be determined at international meeting;
scientists and industry support stronger conservation measures  

(June 4, 2007 - The Hague, The Netherlands) Delegates from 171 countries will debate over the next 10 days whether to include key marine species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). At the triennial meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP), wild caviar trade regulations may be tightened, and red coral, the most valuable of all coral species, will be considered for a listing that would establish trade monitoring to ensure global demand does not threaten the species’ survival.

With wild black caviar fetching more than U.S. $100 an ounce and a finished red coral necklace retailing for up to $20,000, these products are among the world’s most valuable wildlife commodities. But 200-million-year-old sturgeon species, source of black caviar, have declined by up to 90 percent in the past 30 years, and global red coral catches have plummeted by 90 percent in the past two decades.

Wild Caviar: Let the Connoisseur Beware

Once plentiful in the Northern Hemisphere, sturgeons have suffered drastic population declines due to high demand for their roe, or caviar. Although sturgeons have been listed under CITES since 1998, Caviar Emptor, a campaign to protect the species, believes that the international caviar trade remains detrimental to the species’ survival. At the CITES CoP, scientists and conservationists will call for additional trade restrictions, including a ban on the beluga caviar trade.

Scientists Call for Bans

Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science and lead scientist for Caviar Emptor, said, “With beluga sturgeon, we have a fish on the brink of extinction, and we must act now if these ancient species are to survive. It is vital that CITES delegates strengthen the regulations that govern the global caviar trade and consider a trade ban for the most endangered species such as the beluga. Right now, the choice is protection or extinction.”

According to Russian surveys, the population of stellate sturgeon, source of sevruga caviar, is just 10 percent of its 1978 level, and numbers of Russian sturgeon, source of osetra caviar, have dropped 50 percent during the same period. The same data show precipitous declines in beluga sturgeon, suggesting a 45% drop in population numbers from 2004 to 2005.

Local Caspian scientists concerned about overfishing and poaching have been predicting the need for a fishing ban for years. Dr. Vladimir Ivanov, the former Director of the Caspian Fisheries Research Institute, said in a book published in 2000: “Sturgeon resources are in a precarious condition. Without taking effective measures, a moratorium on sturgeon fishing is inevitable.”

Black Sea nations voluntarily halted exports of caviar this year, and Romania has imposed a long-term fishing moratorium. Dr. Radu Suciu, head of the Sturgeon Research Group for Romania’s Danube Delta National Institute, said, “ Romania realized that decisive action was needed to prevent the complete disappearance of this fish and implemented a 10-year ban on all sturgeon fishing in May 2006. We urge other sturgeon range states, particularly in the Caspian Sea, to consider similar actions. These moratoriums may be the only chance the sturgeons have for survival and recovery in their native waters.”

Importers Can Encourage Conservation

At the CITES CoP meeting, changes to Resolution 12.7 governing the sturgeon and caviar trade will be negotiated. The resolution requires sturgeon range states ( Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran, along with the Black Sea nations) to agree on sustainable fishing and export quotas; to take measures to combat illegal trade; and to implement a regional conservation plan.

“So far, enforcement of the CITES resolution for the caviar trade has been ineffectual,” said Dawn M. Martin, president of SeaWeb and one of the Caviar Emptor partners. “Despite Caspian nations’ lack of cooperation with trade regulations, the CITES Secretariat approved caviar export quotas this year after imposing a ban in 2006. This inconsistency puts sturgeons at risk and sends a mixed message to range states about the seriousness of our concerns. This week’s meeting provides importing_nations_with_a_chance_to_put_real_pressure_on_the_Caspian_states_to_conserve_sturgeon_before_it_is_too_late._rdquo.css;

Despite evidence of substantial damage to sturgeon populations, a proposal to weaken caviar trade regulations is up for consideration at the CITES CoP meeting.

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