(November 13, 2002) -- The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lifted its ban on trade of beluga caviar on November 8, 2002, less than three weeks after the ban was imposed. CITES said last month that the export freeze was due to a lack of effective coordinated management among the five Caspian states on beluga sturgeon catches and exports. Upon reopening the trade, CITES did not provide a detailed justification for how intergovernmental coordination was achieved.

Caviar Emptor sees the lifting of the trade ban so soon after it was imposed as evidence of CITES' unwillingness to take action that will truly protect beluga sturgeon from extinction. CITES is taking a short-term approach that will not stem the precipitous decline of slow-maturing beluga sturgeon, a fish that takes 15 years to reach reproductive age.

Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that beluga sturgeon, whose population has declined by more than 90 percent in the past 20 years, cannot withstand any amount of fishing pressure now or in the foreseeable future. Caviar Emptor recently submitted to CITES and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service a review that criticizes the science underlying the setting of 2002 sturgeon catch and export quotas. In the review, marine biologists pointed out numerous flaws in the Caspian states' scientific process for estimating fish populations, stating that it is "plagued by inadequate description and justification of methodologies used, a lack of statistical rigor, and a failure to describe the scientific uncertainty associated with various estimates" (Pikitch and Lauck, 2002). One of the major problems revealed is the Caspian states' overestimation of beluga sturgeon abundance by a factor of 25, which has resulted in an unsustainable level of fishing. These revelations make CITES' lifting of the ban on the beluga caviar trade even more worrisome.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government announced last week that it would hold a public hearing on December 5 in the Washington, D.C. area on its proposal to list beluga sturgeon as an endangered species. To accommodate the public hearing, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service extended the public comment period to December 28. Due to the extremely depleted state of beluga sturgeon, Caviar Emptor has asked for an emergency listing. Such a listing is needed to ensure that protections afforded by an endangered species listing go into effect prior to the commencement of the spring fishing season, which begins in March.

Vikki N. Spruill
President, SeaWeb

Lisa Speer
Senior Policy Analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council

Dr. Ellen Pikitch
Director of Ocean Strategy, Wildlife Conservation Society


For more information or interviews with Caviar Emptor spokespeople, please contact Shannon Crownover ([email protected]) or Sunny Wu ([email protected]) at 202-483-9570. For a complete report on the decline of Caspian Sea sturgeon, click here.

For U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service inquiries, please contact Patricia Fisher at 202-208-1459.


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