Julia Roberson
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Fact Sheet

"Caviar Emptor" strives to protect critically endangered beluga sturgeon and other threatened Caspian Sea sturgeon species -- source of most of the world's caviar -- that have faced sharp decline in recent years. The campaign calls for a halt to the international trade of beluga caviar in particular, and urges consumers to avoid beluga caviar and to reduce their consumption of other Caspian Sea caviar.

Leading environmental groups Natural Resources Defense Council, Wildlife Conservation Society and SeaWeb launched the effort in December 2000. In October 2003, WCS' role in the partnership was transferred to the University of Miami due to the appointment of Caviar Emptor's lead scientist, Dr. Ellen Pikitch, as professor and executive director of the new Pew Institute for Ocean Science housed at the University.

Sturgeon Status
The 27 species of sturgeon and their close relatives, paddlefish, are imperiled, and beluga sturgeon is on the brink of extinction. The population of beluga sturgeon in the Caspian has plunged by more than 90 percent in recent decades due to overfishing, habitat loss, pollution and poaching. Despite scientists’ concerns, the Caspian states were allowed to catch 155 tons of beluga sturgeon in 2003, which would produce about 9 tons of beluga caviar for the international market. There have been several reports from the Caspian region that fisherman had difficulties finding enough fish to fill this quota.

Caviar Market
The global legal caviar trade is estimated at $100 million annually. Despite steep declines in numbers of sturgeon, most of the world's caviar supply is from the Caspian Sea. Demand is highest in the European Union, Switzerland, the United States and Japan, which together account for 95 percent of the world's total caviar imports. The United States is the largest market for beluga caviar, importing 60 percent of world supplies. Scientists believe halting the trade to the United States would provide much needed relief for the fish. The average beluga sturgeon caught today weighs about 300 pounds with up to 60 pounds of caviar per fish. Beluga caviar sells for $100 an ounce in the United States, which would be an average retail value of $90,000 per fish.

Policy Recommendations
To conserve the species, Caviar Emptor recommends an international ban on trade in beluga caviar; listing of beluga sturgeon as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which would halt U.S. imports; greater international funding to protect and restore Caspian Sea sturgeon; stronger U.S. enforcement of international trade restrictions on caviar imports; support for environmentally sound aquaculture as an alternative to wild sturgeon caviar; and stronger state management of U.S. sturgeon species.

Consumer Alternatives
Consumers should reduce their consumption of Caspian Sea caviar and completely avoid beluga caviar. If consumers do buy caviar, better choices include environmentally sound varieties made from sturgeon and paddlefish farmed in the United States. American caviar is a fast growing, $15 million-a-year industry. The biggest maker of American caviar said it produced 7 tons of caviar in 2003.


For a complete report on the decline of Caspian Sea sturgeon, see



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