Story and caviar photo by Manos Angelakis
Fish images: courtesy of Calvisius Caviar
International obligatory coding of caviar.
Caviar production has been very tightly controlled since 2005, when the US government banned the importation of Beluga caviar roe from a prized sturgeon variety that has been overfished in the wild to the point of becoming an endangered species.
Sturgeon farms have begun popping-up around the globe; and while the industry is still in its infancy, it has been introducing cultured product to the market fulfilling some of the demand and placing a check on runaway pricing.
Farmed caviar is now available worldwide from 6 sturgeon species that can be found at the Pacific Coast of North America, in Siberia’s Lake Baikal, in the Caspian and Black Seas, in the Aegean, the Adriatic and in China’s Amur River.
The “International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora” requires that every tin of roe is marked with an obligatory code in the form SturgeonSpecies/C/Country/Year/Registered Site/Number.Lot - the letter C on the second part of the code stands for “Cultured”; if the fish was caught in the wild it would have code letter “W”.
For example, the code HUS/C/IT/2019/384/xxxx.xxx indicates that the roe is Beluga that comes from Huso Huso or Huso Dauricus Sturgeon that normally lives in the Black or Caspian Sea and, in this case, the fish is cultured in Italy, in 2019, at the Lake Garda aquaculture site #384.
Similar three letter coding is found for roe from TRA (indicates caviar from the Transmontanus specie found in the Pacific Coast of North America); BAE (indicates roe of Acipencer Baerii found in Baikal Lake or Acipenser Baerii Stenorrhynchus from Ienisseï); GUE (Oscietra roe from Acipencer Gueldenstaedtii also found in the Black or Caspian Sea); STE (Acipenser Stellatus, Sevruga roe from the Black or Caspian Sea or the Aegean); NAC (Acipenser Naccarii from the Adriatic). A total of 2,329 commercial sturgeon farms were recorded by 2017 globally, which represented an increase by 7% compared to 2016, with noticeable quality improvements.
The main countries that culture Sturgeon species now are: Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, the United States, Vietnam, Madagascar, Germany, France, Israel, Poland, Spain, Belgium, Taiwan, Hungary, Uruguay, and China. Turkmenistan is not a producer country; however Russia and Kazakhstan allocate to it a portion of their yearly sturgeon catch and export quotas. Experimental production facilities are constantly starting in other countries such as, among others, Georgia, Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus according to the most recent reports.
Global sturgeon production of aquaculture origin has progressively increased during the last 15 years and is estimated in 2017 to amount to 364 tons. This figure probably is underestimated due to information deficits for some countries of origin, especially China, where sturgeon meat production for human consumption using fish of relatively small sizes i.e. immature fish that does not produce caviar (“one fish, one dish”) is far larger than the fish cultured for caviar.
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