WILD CAVIAR TRADE TO FACE ADDITIONAL SCRUTINY
(June 14, 2007 - The Hague, The Netherlands) An international endangered species conference declined emergency procedures to curb trade of caviar from the rare beluga sturgeon, but plans to strengthen scientific oversight of the wild caviar trade in general.
Scientists and conservationists attending the triennial conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) say the survival of overfished wild sturgeons now depends on the vigilance of importing nations, who have been granted more rights to question exporting countries on the sustainability of the caviar they produce. The revised resolution that governs international trade of endangered sturgeon products passed through a conference committee today and will be voted on by delegates on Friday.
“Many scientists had hoped for a stronger set of restrictions on the wild caviar trade, especially for beluga sturgeon, which will not survive the rampant overfishing occurring in the Caspian Sea,” said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science and lead scientist for Caviar Emptor, a non-profit campaign to protect and restore wild sturgeons. “The good news is that a system has finally been established that will lift the veil of secrecy off the caviar trade.”
Conservationists said the most significant change to the caviar trade resolution was the addition of clauses to increase the transparency and international scrutiny of the quota-setting process. These include:
Pikitch added: “If we are going to save wild sturgeons, consuming nations must use their oversight powers and refuse to import Caspian caviar if the overfishing and steep population declines continue.”
At the CITES conference last week, sturgeon scientists and conservationists asked delegates to consider an emergency measure for beluga caviar quotas, which comes from the overfished beluga sturgeon whose numbers have plummeted by 90 percent in the past three decades. Delegates delayed the matter, saying it would be up to the Animals Committee, which meets in 2008, to make recommendations about halting trade. However, delegates recommended in the resolution that next year’s quotas for sturgeon catches and caviar exports be no higher than 2007 levels.
“The jury is out on whether this new resolution will save Caspian sturgeons from extinction,” said Dawn Martin, president of SeaWeb and one of the Caviar Emptor partners. “The fate of sturgeons now rests largely in the hands of consumers, who can choose not to eat the eggs of an endangered species. Caviar connoisseurs can help save this ancient species by switching to farmed caviars, which are of the highest quality and are a better choice for the environment.”
Scientists and conservationists were against some provisions of and omissions from the new sturgeon resolution, including:
Other provisions that were welcomed by environmentalists included:
With wild black caviar fetching more than U.S. $100 an ounce, this product of the 200-million-year-old sturgeon species is one of the world’s most valuable wildlife commodities. Once plentiful in the Northern Hemisphere, sturgeons have suffered drastic population declines due to high demand for their roe, or caviar. Although sturgeons have been listed under CITES since 1998, Caviar Emptor, a campaign to protect the species, believes that the international caviar trade remains detrimental to the species’ survival.
According to Russian surveys, the population of stellate sturgeon, source of sevruga caviar, is just 10 percent of its 1978 level, and numbers of Russian sturgeon, source of osetra caviar, have dropped 50 percent during the same period. The same data show precipitous declines in beluga sturgeon, suggesting a 45 percent drop in population from 2004 to 2005.
For interviews with sturgeon scientists attending the conference or chefs who refuse to serve wild caviar, please contact Julia Roberson at +44-77-04-54-83-92 and email@example.com.
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