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article imageGreen Thumbs Up: Saving sturgeon while producing 'desert caviar'

By Karen Graham     Apr 20, 2016 in Environment
Abu Dhabi - When we think of caviar, we picture wild sturgeon found in the cold waters of the Caspian Sea, parts of Europe and the United States. But a company in Abu Dhabi is changing that perception.
Located in the capital of the United Arab Emirates is a huge industrial complex covering 56,000 square meters (13.8 acres) capable of producing 35 tons of caviar and 700 tons of sturgeon meat every year.
Called Emirates Aquatech, the company's co-founder and managing director Ahmed Al Dhaheri has created a caviar production facility in Abu Dhabi where temperatures outside and across the Arabian Peninsula regularly reach 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius).
The  56 000-square-meter farm will eventually produce 35 tonnes of caviar and 700 tonnes of sturgeon...
The 56,000-square-meter farm will eventually produce 35 tonnes of caviar and 700 tonnes of sturgeon meat a year.
Emirates Aquatech
The facility, the world's largest caviar factory, took over four years to construct and required the expertise of many talented people in the fields of technology, aquaculture, and science. "Even we ourselves thought we were crazy going into this project, but we had the inner belief that we can do what others thought can't be done," Al Dhaheri said.
"It's caviar from the desert. Who would imagine that one day it could be produced here in Abu Dhabi? We produced it and we're competing with the world." But the project is not merely about producing caviar and making money,” Mr. Al Dhaheri says, according to
Declining sturgeon stocks worldwide
Members of the oldest families of bony fish in the world, sturgeon are native to sub-tropical, temperate and subArctic rivers, lakes and coastlines of Eurasia and North America. In the last half century, stocks of sturgeon have declined as much as 70 percent in major waterways, reports the World Wildlife Fund.
It takes four years from the time the fish leave the hatchery befor the sturgeon are large enough to...
It takes four years from the time the fish leave the hatchery befor the sturgeon are large enough to harvest.
Emirates Aquatech
Poaching in the Volga-Caspian area has devastated the sturgeon populations in the region. But, over-fishing, water pollution, damming, and the destruction and fragmentation of natural watercourses and habitats have done the most damage, affecting migration, breeding and feeding grounds for this fish.
In 2014, Mr. Al Dhaheri told the National, "There are two aspects to the business. One is the production and the economic side of it; the capacity and the markets and where to sell. The other side is the fish itself and how it’s grown – who is this fish and why is it so special?”
The facility uses the latest technology  controlling everything  from feeding to water quality and m...
The facility uses the latest technology, controlling everything, from feeding to water quality and more.
Emirates Aquatech
Mr. Al Dhaheri relates that in 2006 when he and his brother first conceived of the idea of going into sturgeon aquaculture, they found out that the sturgeon had been recognized as being endangered. This knowledge was the added impetus to completing the project because there was a need to preserve and protect the fish.
Jump ahead just a few years and the Abu Dhabi government's plan to diversify away from hydrocarbons is added to the picture. Last year, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said that the country would have a big celebration when they sold their last barrel of oil.
Diversification is also Mr. Al Dhaheri's goal for his company, and he is especially proud of the fact that he is actively involved in the preservation of sturgeon. He wants to preserve the sturgeon for the future and he says his 300,000 fish will play an important and critical role.
Emirates Aquatech produces Yasa Caviar  and won FDA approval to sell its caviar in the United States...
Emirates Aquatech produces Yasa Caviar, and won FDA approval to sell its caviar in the United States in 2014.
Emirates Aquaculture
Producing caviar on a monumental scale
The facility has 80 tanks and basins, sophisticated filtration systems, automated feed conveyors and a computerised monitoring system. These technologies allow the company to optimise conditions for a 12-month caviar production cycle, something that is impossible in the wild.
From the hatchery, sturgeon are transferred to various tanks, according to their size. There, they are allowed to grow fat and pampered for four years and then they are separated, males from females. For six weeks before they are slaughtered, the caviar-bearing fish are kept in a cleansing tank to ensure optimum egg quality. The roe, or caviar, are the unfertilized eggs of the fish.
In the production room, the fish are slaughtered and the roe is extracted, cleaned and packed for export around the world. The flesh of both the male and female fish is sold to high-end hotels and restaurants. The skin, for the time-being, is discarded. But plans are in the works to use the skin of the sturgeon because it can be tanned and made into leather goods.
Yes, this aquaculture facility is very water-intensive. But surprisingly, 90 percent of the water is recycled. No antibiotics are ever used because the facility has a state-of-the-art ozone system. "We don't use this kind of thing (antibiotics). We use ozone, a natural gas, to reduce and control the total bacteria count in the tanks," production manager Mo'affaq said.
"We're really proud to be helping to protect this type of fish from extinction. One of our main objectives is to one day take some of these fish back to their natural habitat," Mr. Al Dhaheri said.
Green Thumb Up is a weekly feature focusing on the environment and how we can lead more sustainable and eco-friendly lives. Last week we focused on Ortho's plan to go neonics-free in the pesticides by 2021.
More about Abu dhabi, caviar factory, Emirates Aquatech, resurgence of sturgeon, Endangered species
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