Officials Delay Trade Restrictions on Caspian Sea Caviar

Conservation groups say CITES' action falls short of protecting sturgeon populations

(June 21, 2001) -- Today, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreed to an action plan that makes progress toward improved management and enforcement of depleted Caspian Sea sturgeon fisheries and places a temporary suspension on sturgeon catches through the end of 2001. However, CITES rejected the recommendations of scientists and conservation organizations to impose significant long-term reductions in caviar exports that are needed to help save dwindling populations of sturgeon, source of most of the world's caviar.

"Today's decision falls short of what is needed to protect severely threatened Caspian Sea sturgeon," said Lisa Speer, Senior Policy Analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was a presenter to the CITES meeting in Paris earlier this week. "While the measures adopted today represent an important step forward, they will not by themselves be sufficient to stop the downward spiral of beluga sturgeon toward extinction."

Overfishing and illegal trade to supply the global caviar market, along with habitat loss and pollution, have decimated sturgeon populations around the world. Among the most significantly affected are sturgeon of the Caspian Sea. Beluga sturgeon, the source of beluga caviar, has declined more than 90 percent in the past twenty years, and is approaching extinction. It is widely believed that beluga sturgeon no longer reproduce in the wild.

Caviar Emptor, a program of leading conservation organizations Natural Resources Defense Council, Wildlife Conservation Society and SeaWeb, has recommended a halt to the international trade of beluga caviar as a key to ensuring the survival of beluga sturgeon. The groups also support the long-term reduction of export quotas for other Caspian Sea sturgeon, and international funding for stock assessments and improved management and enforcement practices.

Earlier this year, the scientific arm of CITES recommended an 80 percent reduction in Caspian export quotas to protect the fish, along with enhanced management and enforcement of the region's sturgeon fisheries. Today's CITES decision addresses only management and enforcement issues.

"Because CITES has given no direction on sturgeon catch limits beyond the end of this year, the fate of Caspian sturgeon remains uncertain," said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, Director of Marine Programs of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "There are no quick fixes that could remedy this dire situation. Beluga sturgeon require 15 years to reach sexual maturity and can live for over 100 years, so this fish needs long-term protection if it is to recover."

NRDC, WCS and SeaWeb have reiterated their plans to seek an Appendix I listing for beluga sturgeon, which under CITES' guidelines would effectively place an international trade ban on beluga caviar. In addition, the three groups are calling on consumers worldwide to avoid beluga caviar and to reduce their consumption of other Caspian Sea caviars during this crisis. If consumers do buy caviar, better choices include environmentally sound farmed varieties.

"It is more important now than ever for consumers to know that it is in 'bad taste' to eat the eggs of the endangered beluga sturgeon, which is an ancient fish that has survived since the time of dinosaurs," said Vikki Spruill, President of SeaWeb. "Consumers can help the fish survive for many years to come by choosing other good-tasting varieties that are better for the environment."

NRDC, WCS and SeaWeb launched Caviar Emptor in December 2000 to seek a halt to international trade in beluga sturgeon; to call for greater international funding for efforts to protect and restore Caspian Sea sturgeon; and to point consumers to preferred environmentally friendly caviar alternatives.

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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, see www.caviaremptor.org.

 

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