Trade in wild caviar is banned

The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has announced today that it is unable to publish the 2006 export quotas for caviar and other sturgeon products (except for aquaculture) until exporting countries provide more information about the sustainability of their sturgeon catch.

The 169 member countries of CITES have set strict conditions for permitting caviar exports. Countries sharing sturgeon stocks must agree amongst themselves on catch and export quotas based on scientific surveys of the stocks. They must also adopt a regional conservation strategy. With the agreement of the sturgeon range States, the rules on how to set quotas were made even more rigorous in 2004.

The information recently provided by the sturgeon-exporting countries bordering the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea/lower Danube River, and the Heilongjiang/Amur River on the Sino-Russian border indicates that many of the sturgeon species in these shared fishing grounds are suffering serious population declines. The Secretariat is concerned that the proposed quotas, while lower than for previous years, may not fully reflect the reductions in stocks or make sufficient allowance for illegal fishing.

“Countries wishing to export sturgeon products from shared stocks must demonstrate that their proposed catch and export quotas reflect current population trends and are sustainable,” said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers. “To do this they must also make full allowance for the amount of fish caught illegally,” he added.

Although many of the measures adopted by CITES are aimed at exporting countries, importers such as the European Union also have important obligations. They must ensure that all imports are from legal sources, and they must establish registration systems for their domestic processing and repackaging plants and rules for the labelling of repackaged caviar. Many key importing countries have still not put these measures in place.

“The CITES regime for international trade in caviar and other sturgeon products is robust and comprehensive. It is strong enough to ensure that the trade in sturgeon products is sustainable – but only if its rules are fully applied. Governments need to fully implement the measures that they have agreed to ensure that the exploitation of sturgeon stocks is commercially and environmentally sustainable over the long term,” said Mr Wijnstekers.

The CITES Secretariat remains hopeful that the exporting countries will supply the missing data that may allow international trade to resume. However, since the CITES system only allows sturgeon products to be exported during the year in which they are harvested and processed, it is currently not possible to export caviar and other sturgeon products from shared stocks.

As caviar stocks continued to decline through the 1990s, the Parties to CITES decided to place all sturgeon species that remained unlisted on its Appendix II, effective from 1 April 1998. Since then, all exports of caviar and other sturgeon products have had to comply with strict CITES provisions, including the use of permits and specific labelling requirements. To have its proposed quota published, a government must show that trade is not detrimental to the long-term survival of the species.

In 2001, CITES responded to high levels of poaching and illegal trade in the Caspian Sea – which accounts for some 90% of world caviar trade– by agreeing a temporary ban. Extensive discussions and stronger actions by the range states were required before the annual quotas could be agreed for 2002 to 2005.

Eager to ensure the long-term health of the sturgeon fisheries, many range states are establishing artificial hatcheries and taking measures to tackle illegal fishing. Because caviar is also a popular local delicacy in many of these countries, they must also focus on strengthening their controls over domestic trade in sturgeon.


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