Caspian Caviar Quotas Called Ineffective

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, January 11, 2007 (ENS) - Quotas on Caspian Sea caviar exports are ineffective and will not help restore dwindling sturgeon stocks, according to analysts and ecologists in Kazakhstan, one of the countries bordering the landlocked sea.

Up to 90 percent of all sturgeon caviar on the world market comes from the Caspian.

caviar

Sevruga caviar from Caspian Sea sturgeon. (Photo courtesy Cardullos)
On January 2, the Secretariat of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, lifted the almost total ban on the export of caviar it imposed last year, and the Caspian countries can this year resume exporting sevruga and osetra caviar. However, total volumes have been reduced by 15 percent compared with 2005.

Analysts, however, say last year's ban and the new quotas are ineffective. “A one year of ban for caviar export is not enough to restore the stock,” said analyst and journalist Eduard Poletaev.

Most sturgeon begin to spawn at 16 to 21 years of age, but high levels of illegal fishing in the Caspian Sea mean that most sturgeon do not ever reach spawning age.

Mels Eleusizov, who heads the environmental group Tabigat, suggests the best way to protect fish stocks would be for CITES to again refuse to issue export quotas for caviar, effectively banning the export of sturgeon products. Eleusizov

Mels Eleusizov leads the environmental group Tabigat, based in Almaty. (Photo courtesy Tabigat)
Also key, he said, is for the five Caspian states to work together. The five states are Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan.

“The allocation of quotas will be considered by our side as the approval of the caviar sale, and it means that illegal fishing and selling will occur,” said Eleusizov.

“The problem can be solved only by joint actions of all Caspian states. At the moment, he said, "there isn’t any approach to solve the problem."

Water contamination related to the oil industry is one such problem and poses a huge threat to sturgeon stocks.

Environmentalists have urged the Caspian littoral states to step up their environmental monitoring efforts.

“The biggest threat for sturgeons is oil, no poacher can cause as much damage as those who recover oil,” said Poletaev.

“The development of oil recovery, which has been poorly thought through from the environmental point of view in such a landlocked water body as the Caspian Sea, can destroy fragile ecosystems and lead to the complete extinction of sturgeons,” warned Poletaev.

{Published in cooperation with News Briefing Central Asia and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, IWPR.}