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

In the United States:
Shannon Crownover [email protected]


Environmentalists, scientists praise action but say long-term action needed

(September 1, 2004) In the face of nearly four years of concerted urging by environmental groups, the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) today said it had halted the global trade of most caviars, including prized beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea’s imperiled beluga sturgeon.

CITES told The New York Times that it has refused to approve most caviar export quotas for 2004  – the first time it has done so since it began monitoring the trade in 1998. Most of the world’s caviar comes from the Caspian, and CITES said Caspian nations were in violation of an international sturgeon conservation agreement that requires them to reach consensus on the division of basin-wide quotas and to take illegal fishing into consideration when determining those numbers. CITES said the freeze on exports would remain in place until the states have complied with the agreement.

“While we are pleased that CITES has taken action to stop the beluga caviar trade, we are very concerned that critically needed long-term conservation measures have yet to be implemented in the Caspian region. CITES needs to stick to its guns and require real reform before permitting a resumption in trade,” said Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

NRDC is part of a coalition with SeaWeb and the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science called Caviar Emptor, which has sought to protect and restore threatened Caspian Sea sturgeon. Of most concern is the beluga sturgeon, whose populations have plummeted 90 percent in the past 20 years.

“The CITES’ ban on caviar exports is a very positive sign, and it must be sustained in order to reverse the beluga sturgeon’s long-term slide towards  extinction,” said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, professor and executive director of the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science. “Sturgeon are living fossils, and while their long history illustrates the fortitude of wildlife, it has also taught us a valuable lesson about how easily an ancient species can be lost from the face of the planet.”

In addition to overfishing and poaching of Caspian sturgeon, habitat loss and pollution have contributed to the decline of the species.

CITES’ trade halt means that fresh caviar from the Caspian Sea will not be available for quite some time. Most beluga, osetra and sevruga caviar tins currently available in the United States were produced in spring 2003, making the product nearly a year-and-a-half old.

“First of all, it doesn’t make sense to eat the eggs of an endangered species. But now the Caspian caviars on store shelves are from last year’s harvest, and that’s another reason to avoid them,” said Vikki Spruill, President of SeaWeb.  “Caviar Emptor encourages consumers to choose farmed American caviar, which is a product you can trust to be great tasting and eco-friendly.”

For nearly four years, Caviar Emptor has called for a long-lasting ban on the international trade of beluga caviar as a way to protect the beluga sturgeon from extinction. In April 2004, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, acting on a petition by Caviar Emptor, declared beluga sturgeon as “threatened with extinction,” thus subjecting it to protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Caviar Emptor has pointed consumers to caviars made in the United States from farmed sturgeon, paddlefish and trout as well as wild salmon and whitefish roes as better choices for the environment.


For interviews with spokespeople, photographs, or video footage, please contact Shannon Crownover, [email protected]. For more information, see

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