Giant and Common Sturgeon

At least that is the title of this engraving from the famous 1894 encyclopaedia of animals, "The Royal Natural History", edited by Richard Lydekker B.A., F.R.S., etc. Today, no sturgeon could be called "common", and while occasional specimens are caught or found dead around the Scottish coast, - including one at the entrance to the Caledonian Canal - they are now considered "extinct" in this area. With a single fish worth up to $100,000 at "street prices", no-one concerned about preventing species extinction should be unaware of the following information, and promotion of "wild"  caviar consumption must be regarded as irresponsible. There is much information available on the Internet. This is a sample...


All over the world, caviar eating is on the rise. In Eastern European countries, caviar is very common-place. It is popular with almost
every meal. In America, many chefs are proposing it as a popular new snack to be served at the bar and it's consumption is
becoming as widespread as it used to be in the 1800s. It was a mainstay of the colonial diet. Babies were weaned on it and caviar
was also used as bait. In 1890, it became an upper class food. The most popular caviar comes from the Beluga, Stellate, and
Russian sturgeons, which are the most endangered sturgeon species, and come from the Caspian Sea.

The countries bordering the Caspian Sea rely on the caviar trade for income. The Caspian Sea, the world's largest lake, is over
374,000 square kilometers and 80% to 90% of the world's sturgeons live in this lake. The sturgeons in this lake are in danger of
extinction because of the high demand for caviar by the bordering countries. There are not enough sturgeons being left to reproduce
and maintain their population. Once the sturgeons die out, the money from the caviar industry will also disappear. The Soviet Union
and Iran held control over the Caspian Sea and its supply of sturgeons until Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan also became
involved in the competition for the sturgeons. Under the control of Soviet Union and Iran, the sturgeon population was better regulated
and kept at a reasonable level. Now, the higher  demand for caviar has put the sturgeons in grave danger.

The Beluga Sturgeon is the most rare of the three varieties from the Caspian Sea. It can live 100 years, grow to 30 feet in length, and weigh as much as 1,800 pounds. The female requires 20 years to mature and begin producing roe, and it produces the largest grained of the sturgeon caviars. The beluga is also found in the Black, Azov, and Adriatic Seas, as well as the Dnepr and Danube rivers.

Sturgeon are caught in large nets set by fishermen and guided to the shore by boats and winches. When a female sturgeon of egg-bearing age is caught in a net, it is stunned by a blow to the head with a wooden club. Back on shore, the fish is stunned a second time before it is taken to the processing room. A precise incision is cut in the belly of the fish and the egg sack is removed whole. In Russia, the eggs are removed before the fish dies; in Iran, the fish is killed before the roe is extracted.

It is reported that much of the current catch is done illegally though.  This illegal catch is on the rise because more laws are limiting
the sturgeons that can be caught.  The Russian news reported that up to 90% of the catch from the Caspian is poached.  This
poaching of caviar is such a profitable operation that large crime organizations (the mafia) are involved, and enforcement of laws
preventing the poaching of sturgeon is often corrupt.  Poaching methods are also more detrimental to the species than legal
harvesting.  The illegal status of much of the collection of the sturgeon has put more irresponsible, criminal types in charge of the
collection, leading to unneeded killing of the fish.  It is estimated that  nearly a hundred percent of the fish caught are killed.  Ninety
percent of the fish actually killed contain no eggs because they are not unfertilized mature females.  And more scientific ways of
extracting the eggs with out killing the sturgeon have been developed but are not implemented in the poaching methods.

Other ways are also being developed to successfully produce caviar without harming the fish population.  Farming of sturgeon in
North America is a new way that the wild sturgeon can be unaffected by the world's caviar demands.  Such alternative methods need
to be encouraged and increased.

To curtail the illegal trade of caviar, to ensure the proper management of wild sturgeon, especially in the Caspian, all sturgeons were
recently included in the CITES appendices beginning April 1, 1998. The CITES are responsible for providing regulations regarding the
import and export of the sturgeon caviar. This will limit the further endangerment of the species by removing them from international
trade. But to fully protect the sturgeon species regulations need to be enacted in Eastern European countries limiting the local
consumption and thus exploitation."