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Governments to consider trade restrictions on Caspian Sea caviar
Paris, 18 June 2001 - Over 100 officials representing the member governments of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) are meeting here from 19-22 June to decide on a range of issues including the rapid decline in Caspian Sea sturgeon populations.
The meeting of the CITES Standing Committee will consider restricting the international caviar trade of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. A CITES scientific committee has recommended that the trade be greatly reduced because the sturgeon fisheries are being depleted by illegal fishing. Iran, the fifth Caspian Sea state, is not facing restrictions because it has a functioning management system for sturgeon.
"Caviar-producing sturgeon are perhaps the single most valuable wildlife resource anywhere in the world today," said Ken Stansell, Chairman of the Standing Committee. "We owe it to the people of the Caspian Sea region to help their governments manage sturgeon stocks on a scientific basis and protect them from illegal traders."
All five Caspian countries are considering making a joint statement to the Committee pledging regional cooperation on sturgeon. This will include negotiating a regional agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of Caspian Sea fishery resources by the end of the year, conducting a comprehensive survey of fishery resources and populations, asking Interpol to analyse the illegal sturgeon trade, cooperating more to combat illegal harvesting and trading, and inviting CITES to conduct on-site inspections. The countries met last week at a meeting sponsored by the UN Environment Programme and its partners.
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 trace 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 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. Reduced 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.
Recognizing the need for action, the 1997 meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES listed all species of sturgeon on CITES' Appendix II, effective since 1 April 1998. This listing means that all exports of caviar and other sturgeon products must now 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.
In April 2000, the COP strengthened the controls on sturgeon by adopting a universal labelling system for caviar exports. It further required all range States to coordinate their annual export and catch quotas for 2001.
The issue of sturgeon was also added to CITES' ongoing Review of Significant Trade process. In December, a CITES scientific committee considered the results of this Review. Its recommendations, sent to the Range states in February 2001, called on Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan to reduce substantially their requested 2001 quotas for sturgeon catch and caviar exports. The current caviar export quotas are 790 kg for Azerbaijan, 32,210 kg for Kazakhstan (of which 1,410 kg are allocated to Azerbaijan and 3,890 to Turkmenistan), and 62,040 kg for Russia (of which 2,300 are allocated to Azerbaijan and 1,700 to Turkmenistan). Iran's agreed caviar quota is 82,810 kg.
The scientific committee also called on the governments to institute a number of reforms, including carrying out science-based assessments of sturgeon population levels (with support from FAO) to ensure that catch and export quotas are scientifically valid, strengthening their controls over domestic trade in sturgeon, and improving their enforcement, licensing, identification, labelling and hatchery-production and -control systems.
The CITES Standing Committee (which acts as in interim authority between COP meetings) must now decide on these recommendations.
Note to journalists: Standing Committee Chairman Kenneth Stansell and CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers will brief the press on the meeting results at 12h15 on Thursday, 21 June at the Centre de conférences internationales of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 19, avenue Kléber, Paris (the entrance is at 5, rue des Portugais, near the Arc de Triomphe).
If you want to ensure that the press briefing is not rescheduled at the last minute due to a delay in the sturgeon decision, or to obtain other information, please contact Michael Williams at +41-22-9178242/244/196, +41-79-4091528 (cell) or michael.williams [at] unep.ch.
Official documents are available at www.cites.org. See in particular Standing Committee 45 Document 12 and Notification 2001/005 Annex 1. Other useful background is posted at www.traffic.org.