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article imageBlack Caviar May Be Rarer As Russia Stops Sturgeon Fishing

By Alexander Marjin     Jul 30, 2001 in Technology
MOSCOW (dpa) - Right on time, the caviar lady Nina rings the doorbell. With a dazzling smile and gleaming golden teeth she proudly presents her goods: Black caviar in jars of various sizes.
The price: 600 roubles (20.5 dollars) for 330 grams. Nina spends her time travelling back and forth between Moscow and the Caspian Sea town of Astrakhan. In the Russian capital, she has a wide circle of customers.
Demand is not falling off, above all because legally-produced caviar is considerably more expensive. And on top of this, on July 20 a stop to caviar production from official fishery quotas went into effect.
Russia's fishery agency, led by Yevgeni Nazdratenko, the man who was dismissed as governor of the Pacific region of Primorye due to corruption scandals and poor economic management, issued the decision based on a United Nations recommendation for a temporary stop to the commercial fishing of sturgeon.
According to Russian press reports, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have also been briefed by the U.N. committee in charge of administering CITES, the international convention banning trade in endangered species of animals, on the need to stop the fishing of sturgeon and to pass laws banning illegal fishing.
The U.N. warns that otherwise the sturgeon face possible extinction, with their numbers dwindling each and every year. CITES experts say that fish catch quotas are the key to efforts by the littoral states to combat illegal fishing.
The sole exception among the five Caspian Sea littoral states is Iran, according to the Russian media reports. Teheran has a state monopoly on sturgeon fishing and on the production of black caviar.
But the Iranians make short work of it in dealing with poachers. Those found guilty have their hands chopped off, and in serious cases, the punishment is the death penalty.
With Russia stopping commercial catches, Iran's monopoly company Shilat is said to be looking optimistically to the future in expectation of robust sales.
CITES experts estimate that some 12,000 tons of black caviar are sold illegally in Russia every year, dwarfing the 1,100 tons which by official account are produced. Last year Russia remained clearly below its official export quota of 87 tons of caviar, earning just 25 million dollars.
By contrast, the export earnings of illegal caviar producers is estimated to have reached 250 million dollars last year.
Observers in Moscow say that the Russian decision on the temporary stop to commercial fishing of sturgeon is neither fish nor fowl. They say it makes no sense to issue such a stop without also restoring the state's monopoly in the caviar industry.
The average Russian citizen won't be affected by the move, since black caviar from illegal production will still be available on markets - albeit at a price of around 100 dollars per kilogram.
Whether today's children will still be able to know what black caviar is will depend on the policies of the Russian authorities.
In order to spare the sturgeon the same fate as the sea-cow, which was wiped out more than 200 years ago along the coast of the Bering Strait, the state will have to take extremely tough action against poachers.
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