Caviar Demand Threatens Caspian Sea Sturgeon
March 19, 2010
By Frank Jordans, Associated Press writer
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GENEVA — Relentless consumer appetite for caviar is pushing sturgeon, including the highly prized beluga, to the brink of extinction,a conservation group said Thursday. The International Union for Conservation of Nature said it assessed 18 types of sturgeon for its latest Red List of endangered species, and found that all were threatened. A complete ban on fishing for sturgeon in the Caspian Sea and elsewhere may be the only way to save the ancient species, the group said.
Beluga sturgeon is now listed as critically endangered for the first time, along with all other commercially harvested Caspian Sea species, the conservation group said.
"It's time to seriously consider ending fishing in the Caspian Sea," said Phaedra Doukakis, an expert with the group and a researcher at New York's Stony Brook University.
Such a move would be a blow to the fishing industry in the Caspian region, which covers parts of Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Beluga caviar can fetch up to $5,000 a pound depending on taste and quality. Eggs and meat from other species are also considered a delicacy in many countries.
Three years ago a U.N. panel lifted trade bans on beluga and two other types of caviar, arguing that Caspian countries had improved their conservation measures and should be allowed to carry out responsible sturgeon fishing.
Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook, said the U.N.-sponsored conservation body CITES should now consider imposing a total ban on trade in sturgeon products when it next meets in two or three years.
Such a ban would need to last several decades to allow sturgeon stocks to recover, she said.
Evidence collected by scientists shows that measures to protect sturgeon have been insufficient in the face of overfishing, poaching and environmental damage, according to Kent Carpenter, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's director for global marine species assessment.
"This is alarming given their unique lineage and particular vulnerability," Carpenter said.
Sturgeon have been around for 250 million years, making them among the world's oldest fish species. They can live for up to a century and take a long time to reach maturity.
"One ray of hope for these species is their ability to produce millions of eggs," said IUCN. "If proper protection can be put in place this reproductive capability may gradually replenish their populations."
The group said other endangered sturgeon species apart from beluga include stellate, Russian, Persian and ship sturgeon.
Chinese paddlefish were among four sturgeon or related species now listed as critically endangered and possibly extinct, it said.
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