Quick Facts

  • Sturgeon have survived since the days the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Commercial fishermen have hunted sturgeon for their roe and meat since at least 1100 BC. Ancient Greek and Roman literature refers to caviar, and the Chinese were trading it as early as the 10th century AD.
  • Clad in bony plates and equipped with broad snouts, sturgeon are remarkable fish and some species live to be more than 100 years old and can grow up to 2,500 pounds and 15 feet long.
  • A single sturgeon can produce hundreds of pounds of roe, though the very largest fish are extremely rare today, following decades of overfishing, poaching, pollution and habitat loss.
  • Historically, the Caspian Sea -- bordered by Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Iran -- has been home to the world's largest abundance of sturgeon. The largest inland body of water on Earth, the Caspian is fed by more than 100 rivers.
  • Overfishing and poaching to supply the lucrative caviar market is perhaps the single biggest threat to sturgeon in the Caspian Sea region. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, regulation of northern Caspian Sea fisheries -- at one time strong and effective -- has weakened. The illegal catch in the Caspian Sea and Volga River (which flows into the Caspian) is estimated to be up to 10 times greater than that of the legal catch.
  • Of the most concern is the beluga sturgeon, which produces beluga caviar, whose populations have declined more than 90 percent in the past two decades. Experts believe beluga sturgeon are so depleted that they may no longer be reproducing in the wild.
  • Demand for the delicacy 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. Imported caviar sells for $100 an ounce or more in the United States. From 1989 to 1997, the United States imported an average of 130,000 pounds of caviar per year, worth about $6.6 million. Caviar from the three principal Caspian Sea sturgeon species -- beluga sturgeon, Russian sturgeon (osetra caviar) and stellate sturgeon (sevruga caviar) -- dominates the U.S. caviar market.

Source: "Roe to Ruin: The Decline of the Caspian Sea Sturgeon and the Road to Recovery," a report by Caviar Emptor partners Natural Resources Defense Council, Wildlife Conservation Society and SeaWeb (p.p. i, 1, 2, 5, 6). See www.caviaremptor.org for more information.


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