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Creating Sustainable Caviar

Caviar’s prices are mainly based on rarity, availability and supply to the market’s demand. Historically, wild sturgeons were steadily in high demand for their flesh as well as their roe. Numbers of wild sturgeons, specially from the Caspian sea have dwindled to the point where supplies are not just limited, but scarce and unreliable. While the rarest of caviars are still available to the privileged few, they are too few in quantities for the open market, leaving a vast demand without supply.

Fishermen, fish farmers and investors has sought methods to fill this void with captive farmed sturgeons. However, farming sturgeons poses challenges on even the most seasoned fish farmers in the world. After Caspian sea harvests were no longer reliably available, many experienced caviar producers from regions such as Iran and Russia left to assist with successfully farming quality sturgeons all over the world. Aqua-farms need access to sources of natural waters which can help create ideal environments in maintaining healthy sturgeons imported from the Caspian sea. Farmers mainly imported several varieties of sturgeons including Siberian, Beluga, Osetra also named Asetra, Ossetra, Ascietra or Oscietra and Sevruga. Farmers begun their venture with imported eggs and fingerlings, thereafter developed effective aqua-farming techniques in order to harvest high quality caviar. Long time wild caviar buyers, chefs, food critics and restaurateurs are praising the high quality of farmed caviar’s flavors and appearance. With sustainability, rarity is no longer an issue presenting a better value with the same qualities. There are still high costs related to farming any species of sturgeon. Farming sturgeons take years of investment before turning a profit, if all goes well. Sturgeons do not always properly adapt to the new environment and eggs or fingerlings will not grow to produce a harvest, making it a venture with risky results. Farms present the advantage of a controlled environment where consistency of the caviar is better when compared to wild caught sturgeons. Aqua-farmers claim that certain ideal environments help sturgeons mature earlier for harvest. Farming sturgeons have been ongoing for decades with many of the earliest being in European regions. One of the challenges which still remains is how to harvest caviar without killing the sturgeon. Sturgeons not only take a long time to mature, but the older they are, the more their roe is prized. Older sturgeons are known to have larger and lighter colored eggs. Profits from earlier harvests are also a main reason for old sturgeon roe being rare.

Farms are looking to further improve the sustainability of their sturgeons by not killing the fish to remove the roe. A process resembling a C – section has been tried for years, but presently carries a high cost. A South Korean farmer harvests its caviar without killing their sturgeon. The farmer begins by regulating the water’s temperature recreating spawning environment. Once the fish is seen to be ready for spawning, they are removed from the tank. Thereafter, a small cut is made where the eggs can be externally pushed out by hand. New processes are being developed by farmers to supply a growing market which has not seen good quality supplies in the past decades.