"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.
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.
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.
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
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
alternative to wild sturgeon caviar; and stronger state management
of U.S. sturgeon species.
Consumers should reduce their consumption of Caspian Sea caviar and
completely avoid beluga caviar. If consumers do buy caviar, better
environmentally sound varieties made from sturgeon and paddlefish
farmed in the United States. American caviar is a fast growing,
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 www.caviaremptor.org.
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