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Caspian Sea: Black caviar becomes rarer with ban; ecologists support 20-year ban
Thursday, July 26, 2001

Deutsche Presse-Agentur, by Alexander Marjin, as reported in Russian Environmental Digest

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 traveling 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.

Ecologists for Twenty- Year Ban on Sturgeon Catches

ITAR-TASS News Agency, July 24, 2001

By Fyodor Zavyalov

A ban on catches of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea should be imposed for no less than twenty years to prevent full extinction of this valuable fish, said scientists of the Caspian Scientific Research Fisheries Institute.

Institute Director Magomet Amarov told Itar-Tass that an international moratorium on sturgeon catches is a necessitated measure and, possibly, it might prove to be too late. Under the present scale of poaching no valuable specimen of sturgeon will be left in the Caspian Sea in the next ten years, he said. According to very moderate estimates, the local population in Daghestan possesses no less than 4,000 small fishing boats which are, as a rule, provided with powerful Japanese motors and modern navigation equipment.

The total amount of sturgeon caught by the "poachers' fleet" was estimated at no less than 10,000 tonnes against the official statistics of sturgeon catches by Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan taken together showing 650 tonnes.

Scientists Warn Caviar-Laying Sturgeon on Brink of Extinction

Deutsche Presse-Agentur, July 24, 2001

Black caviar will become an "extinct" delicacy without a 20-year fishing ban in the Caspian Sea to stop plundering of stocks of the sturgeon fish that produce the valuable eggs, Russian scientists warned Tuesday.

"Under the present scale of poaching no valuable specimen of sturgeon will be left in the Caspian in the next ten years," Magomet Amarov, director of the Caspian Scientific Research Fisheries Institute, told the Itar-Tass news agency.

Only a minimum 20-year ban on catches of sturgeon in the sea can reverse the catastrophic decline in numbers, he said.

Russian fishing authorities on Friday imposed a one-year ban on sturgeon fishing and exports of black caviar in its sector of the Caspian Sea and the Volga river delta.

The move followed recommendations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which said over-fishing threatened the existence of the sturgeon.

Dwarfing the official 650-ton combined annual catch of sturgeon by Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, poachers in the area are believed to catch some 10,000 tons, Tass said.

Poachers based mainly in the Russian republic of Dagestan run fleets of small fishing boats with powerful Japanese outboard motors that make it almost impossible for police patrols to catch them.

Russia and Iran, which also borders the Caspian, are the world's largest producers of caviar.


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