Bye-bye beluga caviar

(October 28, 2005) -- Beluga caviar will be absent from American tables this holiday season. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service today banned Black Sea beluga caviar imports, one month after the same ban was enforced for beluga caviar from Caspian states. The bans come after the Government declared beluga sturgeon to be "threatened with extinction" last year. The United States was the world's largest foreign market for the delicacy, accounting for 60% of the imports in recent years.

A total ban is good news for the beluga sturgeon, whose population has declined by 90 percent in the past 20 years. The sturgeon must be killed for caviar production, and global demand for its eggs has prompted overfishing and rampant illegal trade. The United States, which in past years has imported about 60 percent of the world's beluga caviar, is the major source of that demand, and a prohibition on imports would significantly reduce pressure on the fish. The beluga can take 15 years to reach reproductive age and can live to be 100, so it is vital that the long road to recovery begins immediately. Scientists and fishermen who live in the Caspian region agree. See Voices from the Caspian.

The process to list beluga sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act was initiated in December 2000 when Caviar Emptor, compelled by overwhelming scientific evidence of the fish's perilous status, submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. For a summary of recent scientific data on the fish’s continued decline, please see Current Status of Beluga Sturgeon. For more information, see Caviar Emptor's comprehensive report.

Better protection for beluga sturgeon can be welcome news for caviar lovers. In addition to ensuring that beluga caviar will be around for future generations, there is also an opportunity for consumers to try the growing selection of great tasting and eco-friendly American caviars. Caviars made from farmed sturgeon and paddlefish in the United States are winning over the discerning palates of chefs and connoisseurs alike. To learn more, go to Caviar and Special Occasions and see On New Year's Eve, Let the Beluga Be, an opinion-editorial by Chef Nora Pouillon from the Washington Post, December 31, 2003, and Eureka! It’s from California, an article in the Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2004.

Additional Information

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service release on Black Sea beluga ban, October 28, 2005

Federal Register Notice, March 4, 2005: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's special rule to govern beluga caviar trade

Click here to download the First Global Review of Sturgeon Fisheries published in the journal, Fish and Fisheries, by Caviar Emptor scientists and visit for more information.

Federal Register Notice, July 31, 2002: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's proposal to list beluga sturgeon as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Public Comments, 2002-2003: Select submissions to the Fish & Wildlife Service's public comment periods on the proposed beluga listing.

Letter from Caspian state Azerbaijan

Letter signed by nearly 200 chefs

Petition signed by thousands of citizens

Caviar Emptor's official comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

July 2004 Caviar Emptor letter to the Service

On the Record, excerpts from recent media coverage of the Caspian sturgeon crisis.

Multiplication Problem Threatens Stock of Sturgeon, New York Times, January 6, 2003

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