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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Russian ban on Caspian caviar
Fish market in the Caspian Sea area
Poaching is rampant as demand outstrips supply
By Russian Affairs Analyst Stephen Dalziel

Russia has begun a temporary halt on both commercial fishing of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, and the export of the black caviar which the fish produces.

The bans will last until the end of the year, and are aimed at protecting and replenishing stocks of sturgeon, which have dropped alarmingly in the last few years.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have also agreed to join the ban.

Caviar on sale in a Moscow shop
Caviar like this is going to be in even shorter supply
It follows figures that show beluga sturgeon stocks in the Caspian Sea have fallen by 90% in the past 20 years.

The destruction of spawning sites, pollution and the collapse of the regulated Soviet system have all played a part.

But possibly the single biggest reason has been poaching - something that has increased as Soviet-era restrictions have disappeared.

So the ban which has now come into force on commercial fishing and the export of black caviar will be effective only if the Russian authorities put greater efforts into stopping the poachers.

Rewards for poachers

The rewards for the poachers are high.

Caviar is regarded as a delicacy on the dinner tables of the wealthy; a kilogram can sell for up to $4,000 in Western Europe and the USA.

The temporary bans have been introduced following a meeting in Paris last month of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Russia now plans to take about 250 tonnes of sturgeon from the northern Caspian Sea this year - just over half of its planned target of 450 tonnes.

And these fish will be used for breeding, in the hope of going some way to replenishing stocks.

Apart from being good news for the sturgeon themselves, Russia's moratorium on exporting caviar will please Iran.

Caviar production there has been much better managed in recent years, and Iran may well be able to take advantage of the gap in the market caused by the Russian move.

See also:

22 Jun 01 | Europe
Caspian deal on caviar
19 Jun 01 | Business
Crunch time for Caspian caviar
10 Feb 01 | Europe
Moscow hosts caviar crisis talks
05 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Sturgeon slump threat to caviar
08 Feb 00 | Europe
'Fowl' new caviar for the masses
25 May 00 | Europe
Caspian crisis cuts caviar catch
05 Dec 00 | UK
Who eats caviar?
30 May 00 | UK
The cost of posh nosh
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