Caviar harvest halted in effort to revive sturgeon stocks

Updated on 22 September 2020

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Caviar harvest halted in effort to revive sturgeon stocks

Paris, 21 June 2001 - Key caviar-producing states have reached agreement here on a 12-month action plan that includes a halt to sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea for the rest of the year.

Under the agreement, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia have until 20 July to provide the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora with a detailed inventory of the caviar now in storage from the spring 2001 harvest. Only this caviar may be exported.

"This is an excellent decision that is in the best interests of sturgeon conservation and the implementation of the Convention," said Kenneth Stansell, Chairman of the CITES Standing Committee.

"The international community is working through CITES to help the states of the Caspian sea build a science-based management system for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of sturgeon," said Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of CITES. "It is vital that this extremely valuable natural resource be returned to good health."

The agreement gives the Caspian states until end-2001 to conduct a comprehensive survey of sturgeon stocks, ask Interpol to analyze the illegal sturgeon trade, call on the CITES Secretariat (in collaboration with Interpol and the World Customs Organization) to conduct a study of enforcement needs for combating illegal harvesting and trade, and permit and facilitate on-site inspections by CITES of their sturgeon management activities.

They must also agree by this date on the coordinated management of their Caspian sturgeon resources, including the joint setting of catch and export quotas for 2002. These quotas will be determined by year-end. Any failure on the part of these states to implement this week's agreement will result in zero quotas for 2002.

Turkmenistan, which was not represented at the meeting, will need to confirm in writing that it will adhere to the agreement or face a complete ban on its caviar exports.

The Caspian States had earlier requested 2001 caviar export quotas of 790 kg for Azerbaijan, 32,210 kg for Kazakhstan (including 1,410 kg to be allocated to Azerbaijan and 3,890 kg to Turkmenistan), and 62,040 kg for Russia (including 2,300 to be allocated Azerbaijan and 1,700 to Turkmenistan). They will now be able to sell their existing stocks up to these limits. The CITES Secretariat is to ensure that no new stocks enter the market.

The fifth Caspian Sea state, Iran, already has a functioning sturgeon management system. It has set its 2001 quota at 82,810 kg for this year. While Iran is not subject to the new CITES controls, it has a great interest in efforts to improve the regional management of the Caspian Sea fisheries.

In addition to the requirements for 2001, the four former Soviet republics have until 20 June 2002 to establish a long-term survey programme for sturgeon incorporating up-to-date technology and techniques, to take advice from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN on managing regional fisheries, to adopt a collaborative management system for Caspian Sea sturgeon fisheries, to increase significantly their efforts to combat illegal harvesting and trade and to regulate domestic trade, to submit funding proposals to the Global Environment Facility and other donors for rehabilitating sturgeon stocks, and to implement a caviar labeling system.

Until 1991, two countries - the USSR and Iran - virtually controlled the caviar market, investing heavily in controlling and maintaining fish stocks. This made it easy to trade the source of any given shipment of caviar. With the demise of the USSR, the system collapsed, and many entrepreneurs dealing in "black gold" sprang up to the replace the state-owned companies.

The Caspian once accounted for 95% of world caviar, although this percentage is now closer to 90%. Official catch levels have fallen from a peak of about 30,000 tonnes in the late 1970s to less than one tenth that figure in the late 1990s. Reduce river flow, the destruction of spawning sites, corruption, poaching, organized crime and illicit trade have all contributed to the decline.

One result is that the illegal catch in the four former Soviet republics is now 10 or 12 times higher than the legal take. The legal caviar trade is estimated to be worth some $100 million annually. Because prices of illegal caviar vary widely from country to country, it is difficult to estimate the value of illegal trade, but it is clearly enormous.

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