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

In the United States:
Shannon Crownover [email protected]


Conservationists applaud government’s action under U.S. Endangered Species Act

(Washington, DC – September 29, 2005) The United States today banned beluga caviar imports from Caspian Sea nations after they failed to provide evidence of improved conservation plans for beluga sturgeon, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared a threatened species last year.

Caviar Emptor – a coalition of SeaWeb, Natural Resources Defense Council and the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science – said the ban will provide much-needed relief for the fish and applauded the government’s action, which came after new import restrictions to protect beluga sturgeon went into effect. The United States has been the largest importer of beluga caviar (60%) for the past several years. The ban is effective tomorrow when officially published in the Federal Register and affects The Russian Federation, Iran, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, which produce most of the world’s beluga caviar. 

Dr. Ellen Pikitch, professor and director of the Pew Institute, said, “The beluga sturgeon, one of the most valuable and most threatened fishes in the world, greatly deserves this chance for survival, but it will be a long road to recovery.”  Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst for NRDC, added, “The U.S. has set an important example for the rest of the world to follow by banning beluga caviar imports from nations that failed to take effective action to protect beluga sturgeon from extinction.”  Dawn Martin, executive director of SeaWeb, said consumers still have a role to play since some Black Sea nations may be allowed to export: “Because a small amount of beluga caviar may remain on the market, we continue to urge consumers to instead choose exquisite farmed American caviars, which are a better choice for the environment.”

The ban comes as scientists have grown increasingly concerned about the beluga and other Caspian sturgeon.

  • Science magazine in August quoted experts attending an international ecological conference as saying that no wild, reproducing beluga females were caught this year by the Kazakhstan hatcheries, “which means there won't be any eggs from which to raise hatchery fish.”
  • Science also reported in September that the most recent survey of the Caspian sturgeon population shows “sturgeon stocks are down 20% to 30% from last year,” according to Mohammad Pourkazemi, director of the International Sturgeon Research Institute in Iran. He is quoted as saying, “If illegal catch and environmental deterioration continue at the same pace, we will soon witness the extinction of sturgeon stocks in the Caspian.”
  • A study published September 22 in Fish and Fisheries by Caviar Emptor scientists’ Pikitch and Dr. Phaedra Doukakis said: “Calculations indicate dangerously small populations of beluga and harvest quotas equivalent to removal of nearly all mature individuals.” The paper, the most comprehensive review to date on the world’s sturgeon fisheries, called for a fishing moratorium on beluga sturgeon.

The beluga’s rapid decline, a 90 percent drop in population in just 20 years, is due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, lack of effective governmental management and rampant illegal trade.

The Service’s action comes as the U.S. House of Representatives is about to consider legislation that would weaken the Endangered Species Act.  Today’s actions show how important and successful a conservation tool the Endangered Species Act is not only within the United States, but around the world. 

Caviar Emptor led the effort to list beluga sturgeon under the U.S. Endangered Species Act by submitting a petition to the Service in December 2000. Caviar Emptor also has called for a halt to the international trade in beluga caviar and supports the long-term reduction of export quotas for other Caspian sturgeon and international funding for improved management and enforcement practices.


For interviews with scientists, conservationists, or food industry spokespeople, please contact Shannon Crownover, 1-202-470-2468 [email protected], or Julia Roberson, 33-6-76-51-48-08 [email protected]. For more information, see  Video footage of Caspian sturgeon fishing is also available.


For a copy of the Fish and Fisheries’ article on global sturgeon declines, please see


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