U.S. bans imports of beluga caviar

Sturgeon nearly extinct because of demand


The Fish and Wildlife Service, which banned the importing of beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea last month, extended the ban to the Black Sea basin yesterday, in effect banning all imports of the most highly prized variety of caviar.

Beluga caviar already in the United States may still be sold, but only for the next 18 months, the agency said. "We still have enough beluga to last until the end of the year, depending on the demand, of course," said Michel Emery, director of sales in New York for Petrossian, the caviar importer. "Once we run out, that's it."

Conservation organizations working to preserve dwindling beluga stocks praised the ban, saying it would make it impossible to import beluga from the Caspian by saying it comes from the Black Sea. Those are the only areas that produce beluga caviar.

The ban does not cover osetra or sevruga caviar, or caviar from farmed sturgeon, which conservation organizations have been pushing as an alternative. Beluga sturgeon have been driven to the edge of extinction by demand for caviar, particularly in the United States, where by some estimates 60 percent of beluga caviar is eaten.

In announcing the ban, Gale A. Norton, the secretary of the Interior, said it would take place immediately and remain in place until caviar-producing countries make "significant progress" in regional efforts to protect the fish.

"This is the best we could have hoped for," said Ellen Pikitch, a fisheries expert at the University of Miami with a long-standing interest in protecting sturgeon stocks.

The ban covers caviar, meat and other products from beluga sturgeon imported from the region, re-exported from an intermediary country or carried by travelers, who until now had been allowed to bring up to 250 grams of beluga caviar (about half a pound) into the United States without a permit.

It remains to be seen what effect it will have on the illegal trade in beluga, which Robert Gabel of the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated is 10 or 12 times as large as the legal trade. "During Soviet times there was very strict state control of the fishery," Gabel said yesterday. "Currently the people that seem to be in control are really organized crime and the bad players."

He said he hoped the ban would reduce the beluga trade and encourage countries in the region to do more to protect the fish. "We only have this leverage, our market leverage, to achieve something in those countries," he said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service announced the Caspian ban after countries there did not meet a deadline for providing information on efforts to protect the fish. Some Black Sea countries did provide information then, but the service said yesterday that it had been found wanting.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.