Deadline approaches for Caspian caviar nations to comply with U.S. Endangered Species Act; Scientists note further evidence of beluga sturgeon decline

(Washington DC – September 1, 2005) Caspian nations may face a ban on exports of beluga caviar to the United States, their biggest customer, if they do not submit evidence of improved sturgeon conservation to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within the next few days.

In 2004, beluga sturgeon was officially listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and in March of this year, the U.S. government told exporting nations they had six months to submit evidence of coordinated management plans or face a halt to trade. The United States has imported 60 percent of the world’s beluga caviar for the past several years.

The new requirement, as the Service published in the Federal Register on March 4: “If the littoral states fail to respond or fail to submit basin-wide management plans by the specified deadlines, or if we are unable to confirm that all littoral states are signatories to those plans, we will immediately suspend trade with all littoral states in the given basin (Caspian Sea or Black Sea) until we are satisfied that such management plans exist.” The states also must submit evidence of national legislation in support of the management plan.

Caviar Emptor – a coalition of SeaWeb, the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science, and the Natural Resources Defense Council – urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to fully enforce the requirements of the U.S. Endangered Species Act by immediately banning beluga caviar imports from nations that do not submit evidence of sturgeon recovery plans by this weekend’s deadline (because the deadline falls on a weekend, the Service will take submissions until close of business Tuesday, Sept. 6).

As of Noon Eastern time on Thursday, none of the Caspian nations had submitted documents to the Service.

The deadline comes as scientists have grown increasingly concerned about the beluga sturgeon, a fish that has survived since the days of dinosaurs but has seen its numbers in the Caspian Sea decline 90 percent in just the past 20 years.

At a joint meeting of the Ecological Society of America and the International Association for Ecology in Montreal earlier this month, Science magazine quoted attendees as saying, “no wild, reproducing beluga females have been found this year in Kazakhstan, which means there won't be any eggs from which to raise hatchery fish.”

Scientists are particularly disturbed because Kazakhstan has the only non-dammed river in the Caspian basin, and therefore, the nation was thought to have the best habitat for beluga reproduction in the wild.

The beluga’s rapid decline is due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, lack of effective governmental management and rampant illegal trade. Caviar Emptor calls on consumers worldwide to avoid beluga caviar and to reduce their consumption of caviar from other threatened Caspian sturgeon. If consumers do buy caviar, better choices include environmentally sound aquacultured varieties, such as caviar from sturgeon and paddlefish farmed in the United States.

Caviar Emptor has led the effort to list beluga sturgeon under the U.S. Endangered Species Act by submitting a petition to FWS in December 2000. Caviar Emptor also has called for a halt to the international trade in beluga caviar and supports the long-term reduction of export quotas for other Caspian sturgeon and international funding for improved management and enforcement practices.

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For interviews with scientists, conservationists, or food industry spokespeople, please contact Shannon Crownover, 1-202-470-2468 shannon@seaweb.org, or Julia Roberson, 33-6-76-51-48-08 jroberson@seaweb.org. For more information, see www.caviaremptor.org.

 

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