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Russia Proposes Five-Year Ban on Fishing for Sturgeon from Caspian Sea; Pew Institute for Ocean Science Applauds the Move

March 27, 2008

Contact:
Kathryn Cervino, Communications Manager
kcervino@miami.edu; 347.439.1816

NEW YORK CITY, March 27 – Russia today proposed that Caspian Sea states impose a five-year ban on fishing for sturgeons-- which have been overfished nearly to extinction in pursuit of their prized caviar eggs-- so that the populations can rebound, the global news service Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. The Pew Institute for Ocean Science (www.pewoceanscience.org) has been a leader in the effort to save sturgeons and applauds this forceful and wise proposal as the only way to halt and potentially reverse the devastating decline of this 400-million-year-old species.

“Russia’s call for a halt to sturgeon fishing for the next five years is critical, especially in light of the dismal state of the species in the Caspian Sea” said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, Executive Director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science. “The other four Caspian nations must follow suit for there to be any prospect of saving these ancient and highly valuable fish.”

Alexander Savelyev, a spokesman for Russia’s fisheries agency, told AFP that Russia would formally propose the ban to the other four Caspian Sea states of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan soon. "This is because the sturgeon is about to disappear," Savelyev told the news agency, adding that Russia was not able to fish its annual quota of 50 tonnes of sturgeon last year because overfishing and poaching had depleted stocks.

Russia’s fisheries agency also put forward a draft law on Thursday for the creation of a state monopoly on sturgeon fishing and caviar sales in an effort to stop poaching -- a business worth one billion dollars (634 million euros) a year, Savelyev told AFP. Parliament is expected to examine the draft law in the next few days.

The Pew Institute’s analysis of sturgeon and caviar trade quotas that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) issued Feb. 29 found that virtually the same amount of wild sturgeon and caviar could be captured and exported from the Caspian Sea in 2008 as was permitted in 2007. Most sturgeon species are endangered due to aggressive pursuit of their caviar eggs, a prized delicacy that can fetch more than $100 an ounce. The Caspian Sea is home to beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), whose eggs are considered to be among the finest in the world.

The sturgeon quota system was established to ensure that trade in sturgeon products would only be permitted from sustainable fisheries, but there is evidence that beluga sturgeon stocks have declined by a staggering 90 percent in the past 20 years, indicating that quotas do not reflect the urgent need for protection and the rampant illegal harvest and trade.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said Dr. Phaedra Doukakis, a research scientist with the Pew Institute. “For this to amount to lasting conservation, illegal fishing will need to be controlled and fishing stocks may need a reprieve for more than five years.”

Sturgeon can grow up to 2,500 pounds and 15 feet long. They can take 15 years to reach reproductive age, and females of many sturgeon species reproduce only once every three to four years. The fish must be killed to harvest caviar, and global demand for its eggs has prompted overfishing and rampant illegal trade. As a result, sturgeons are vulnerable to overfishing and unable to recover quickly. The United States banned import of beluga caviar in 2006 after listing beluga sturgeon under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The Pew Institute has been pushing for a controlled and scientifically justified international caviar trade for several years. Pew Institute researchers are also using sophisticated field and laboratory techniques to determine the status of wild sturgeon populations and the extent of their exploitation, and have traveled to Kazakhstan and Russia to carry out their investigations.

The mission of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science (www.pewoceanscience.org) is to advance ocean conservation through science. Established by a generous multi-year grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Pew Institute is a major program of the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and has offices in Miami and New York.

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