Reprieve for the Sturgeons - Worldwide Ban on Wild Caviar Imposed

It is wonderful to start the New Year off with great news. Not only are the Japanese whaling ships still on the run, but an issue that Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been working on for years has just resulted in a stupendous victory.

Since the early Eighties, Sea Shepherd has been campaigning against the international trade in caviar in defense of the rapidly diminished populations of sturgeons. One edition of our newsletter, the Sea Shepherd Log #53 (Winter 1999-2000), was totally dedicated to this campaign. We worked with international experts on ways to expose the illegalities of a criminal operation that not only threatened numerous species of fish but also was the cause for murder, bombings, and arson. Because of the highly lucrative profits from the illegal trade, caviar became as violent a trade as the international trade in narcotics.

Sea Shepherd also worked towards the imposition of tougher sentencing for sturgeon poachers and caviar smugglers.

The great news reported by the New Scientist on January 3rd is that the worldwide trade in wild caviar has been banned.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) made the decision after nine major caviar exporting countries failed to provide evidence on the sustainability of their sturgeon populations.

The legal worldwide trade in caviar has been worth approximately $100 million per year. The illegal trade is estimated to have been over $300 million per year.

CITES is confident that the ban is enforceable with heavy trade sanctions to be imposed on any nation that ignores the ban. If all caviar is banned, it will be difficult to slip black market caviar into a market that no longer exists.

The ban does not affect caviar produced from farmed sturgeons. This is a comparatively small industry but is expected to grow with the enforcement of the ban on wild caviar. However, farm-raised caviar is less valued and less in demand, but these factors may increase with the unavailability of wild caviar.

Sea Shepherd had warned of serious declines in sturgeon populations in the late Nineties and CITES reported a 30% decline in 2004. The exporting nations of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia-Montenegro, and Ukraine proposed lower quotas for 2006 than for previous years, but CITES decided the science behind their projected 2006 quotas did not bear up under scrutiny.

CITES reported that the caviar-producing nations had failed to consider the impact of the illegal exploitation of sturgeon on population sustainability.

In 2005, CITES allowed 71,000 kilograms of wild caviar to be exported by producers. The European Union alone seized 12,000 kilograms of black market caviar during the last five years according to TRAFFIC the worldwide monitoring network.