Magazine article The Spectator

Caviar Crisis

Magazine article The Spectator

Caviar Crisis

Article excerpt

Many of us, not being regular purchasers of the sturgeon's eggs, will be unaware of the gravity of the caviar crisis. I have only just learnt that the population of the beluga sturgeon, which produces the best-quality caviar and lives mostly in the Caspian Sea, has suffered a 90 per cent decline in the past 20 years. It would seem that the fishing in this sea was much better regulated in the days of communism in the Soviet Union and the Shah's regime in Iran. But the independent, not to say irresponsible, Russians, Azerbaijanis, Kazakhs and Turkmen, and the fundamentalist Iranians, without any joint agreement to protect this hugely valuable resource, have so ruthlessly overfished the Caspian (often by poaching in each other's waters) that the beluga sturgeon has now been hunted almost to extinction.

Something like 70 per cent of the exported beluga caviar goes to the United States. Its Natural Resources Defense Council has been trying for several years to get the fish listed as an endangered species, but it is only within the past two months that the import of beluga caviar into America from the Caspian and Black Seas has been banned. If some co-operation between the littoral states can be achieved while demand is stifled, the beluga will surely return. Until then, deprived caviar consumers will have to make do with the other two species which secrete the delectable black roe -- osetra and sevruga.

The sturgeon, of which there are well over 20 different species, is a remarkable prehistoric fish which has been around since the time of the dinosaurs. The beluga sturgeon can weigh more than 2,000 lbs and live for 100 years. We certainly don't want to lose it. Some of the smaller varieties are seen in Atlantic waters (sturgeon go into fresh water to spawn), and in the 19th century they appeared quite commonly in England. It was Edward II who first proclaimed sturgeon to be a 'royal fish', but I doubt whether it has appeared at a royal dining table in this country for some generations.

Mrs Beeton gives three recipes for sturgeon, but you are unlikely to find it on a fishmonger's slab these days, which is a pity since its firm, meaty appearance and taste are not unlike swordfish or shark. It is not as if all sturgeon are endangered, merely that they are no longer caught in British waters. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.