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CITES authorizes 2003 caviar quotas as Caspian Sea
sturgeon stocks start to recover
Geneva, 5 September 2003 – The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has approved quotas for Caspian Sea sturgeon catch and caviar exports in 2003.
“After a decade that saw the collapse of sturgeon stocks due to over-fishing, the governments in the Caspian Sea region are now fully committed to enforcing CITES regulations. As a result of their joint efforts to monitor and manage fish stocks and combat poaching, they are truly starting to turn the situation around,” said CITES Deputy Secretary-General Jim Armstrong.
“The international community has played a vital role by working through CITES to motivate the five partners and support them in putting this valuable commercial resource on a sustainable basis,” he said.
The approved 2003 export quotas for caviar total 146,210 kg, compared with 140,237 kg in 2002 and 153,620 kg in 2001.
The approved quotas for sturgeon catch and caviar exports are based on information submitted by the Caspian States and on the Secretariat’s missions to the region to verify survey results.
In developing the new quotas, the Caspian States paid particular attention to Beluga, which produces the most valuable caviar. Beluga stocks appear to be recovering; greater numbers of fish are spawning and a higher proportion of the fish being caught are going into hatchery production rather than into commercial caviar production.
Nevertheless, the Secretariat is pleased with the slightly lower total catch and caviar export quotas assigned for this species in 2003, which should give beluga stocks more time to build up (beluga take 11 to 17 years to mature). By sacrificing some immediate income, the region’s governments have demonstrated their commitment to making the beluga fishery sustainable over the long term.
CITES halted the caviar trade by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation in June 2001 under the so-called Paris Agreement. It gave the four states until the end of that year to conduct a scientific survey of stocks and to start developing a common management plan. The fifth Caspian state, Iran, was not subject to the caviar ban, but, commendably, it too joined the regional effort. The CITES Secretariat published the five States’ proposal for the 2002 Caspian-wide quota in March 2002.
Because many natural spawning grounds have been destroyed, more than 90% of Caspian Sea beluga sturgeon start their lives in artificial hatcheries. Over the past two years, the Caspian States have invested heavily in expanding and refurbishing these hatcheries. They are also changing their methods to improve the survival rate of fingerlings, for example by releasing them only after they reach at least five grams in weight rather than the previous standard of three grams.
Until 1991, two countries – the USSR and Iran – virtually controlled the caviar market, investing heavily in maintaining fish stocks. This made it easy to track 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 fell from a peak of about 30,000 tonnes in the late 1970s to less than one tenth that figure in the late 1990s. Reduced river flow, destroyed spawning sites, corruption, poaching, organized crime and illicit trade all contributed to the decline.
One result is that by the late 1990s the illegal catch in the four former Soviet Republics was estimated to be 10 or 12 times higher than the legal take. The legal caviar trade has been estimated to be worth some $100 million annually – making it perhaps the world’s most valuable wildlife resource.
Recognizing the need for action, in 1997 CITES decided to place all remaining, unlisted species of sturgeon on its Appendix II, effective from 1 April 1998. As a result, all exports of caviar and other sturgeon products must comply with strict CITES provisions, including the use of permits and specific labelling requirements. To obtain the necessary permits for export, it must be shown that trade is not detrimental to the long-term survival of the species.
Under the Paris Agreement, the Caspian States committed themselves to increasing their anti-poaching efforts and, where necessary, to changing their national legislation to improve their ability to control domestic markets and enforce their CITES obligations.
The CITES Secretariat is administered by the United Nations Environment Programme.
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