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Julia Roberson [email protected]

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Shannon Crownover [email protected]


Conservation groups decry failure to ban immediately imports of beluga caviar and call on consumers to choose alternatives

(Washington, D.C. – June 29, 2004) After making much ado in April about the listing of the beluga sturgeon as a species threatened with extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to allow continued importation of beluga caviar into the US for at least nine months, and thereafter if certain conditions are met. The US is the single largest importer of beluga caviar, the eggs of the severely depleted beluga sturgeon. Concerned groups have argued for years that importation should be halted until the species recovers. 

“We are enormously disappointed in the government’s decision to allow continued imports of the eggs of this critically depleted species,” said Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the co-founders of Caviar Emptor. “An immediate ban on the import of beluga products is essential if beluga sturgeon are to be rescued from extinction.” The proposed special rule will be open for public comment until July 29, 2004 with the deadline to request a public hearing set at July 14, 2004.

For more than three years, Caviar Emptor, a coalition of organizations working in collaboration with scientists, chefs and connoisseurs, has called for an immediate and long-lasting ban on U.S. imports of beluga caviar as a way to protect the beluga sturgeon from extinction.

“The ongoing inaction and delay will only serve to accelerate the clearly evident decline in the species,” said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, the lead scientist for Caviar Emptor and executive director of the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science. In her recent review of data from the Caspian Sea, Dr. Pikitch concluded that the beluga sturgeon population had experienced an alarming 39 percent decline from 2001 to 2002.  In total, the beluga sturgeon population has declined by an estimated 90 percent during the past 20 years, and experts believe few mature beluga remain.

Beluga caviar is one of the world’s most valuable wildlife commodities. In addition to the demand for its caviar, habitat loss and pollution have contributed to the decline of the species.

“Given the government’s inaction, there is an even greater need for consumer action,” said Vikki Spruill, president of SeaWeb and a co-founder of Caviar Emptor. “It’s absolutely in bad taste to eat the eggs of a fish that is in such dire straits, especially when there are alternatives, such as the environmentally friendly American caviars.”

“My fear is that the ongoing lack of action by U.S., as well international trade officials will push the species over the edge,” concluded Pikitch.


  • In 2000, Caviar Emptor petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the fish as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
  • In 2002, NRDC sued the government for failing to act on the petition within the required deadlines
  • Later in 2002, and in response to the lawsuit, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to list beluga sturgeon as an endangered species (The proposal was met with overwhelming support from 50 leading U.S. scientists, 200 leading chefs and thousands of individuals around the world. It received a total of 4,257 public comments, and all but 14 were in favor.  One Caspian Sea nation, Azerbaijan, also endorsed the action.)
  • In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced officially that it would list the species as “threatened with extinction,” one step short of “endangered”
  • Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed special rule that would allow the ongoing trade in beluga caviar in spite of the fact that the species is listed officially as threatened with extinction

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