Hold the caviar: UN-backed body bans export of most endangered sturgeon

Trade in Acipenseriformes

17 April 2006 – Only Iran will be allowed to export caviar from wild Caspian Sea sturgeon this year after the five nations sharing the basin failed to provide information needed to ensure the fish’s survival to the United Nations-backed body that oversees a global treaty governing trade in endangered species.

Iran will be able to export up to 44,370 kilogrammes of caviar from the Persian sturgeon under the 2006 quotas announced by the Geneva-based Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The other Caspian Sea countries are Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan.

“The CITES Secretariat has not received the required information from the five Caspian Sea States that would allow it to publish quotas for wild specimens of the other sturgeon species in this shared basin,” it said in a statement on the fish, whose stocks have dwindled to dangerously low levels due to over-fishing and poaching.

“The Secretariat will therefore not be publishing any more new quotas for the year 2006. In practice, this means that no imports of wild specimens of these sturgeon stocks should take place in 2006,” it added.

In January CITES, alarmed that proposed quota levels might not fully reflect declines in sturgeon stocks caught illegally, warned that it would not approve 2006 export quotas for caviar and other sturgeon products until exporting countries provided more data on the long-term survival of the prized fish.

The 169 member countries of CITES, which is administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), have set strict conditions for permitting caviar exports. States that share sturgeon stocks must agree among themselves on catch levels and export quotas based on scientific surveys of the stocks.

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 show that many sturgeon species were suffering serious population declines.

At the request of the CITES Standing Committee, the European Union (EU) will host a meeting in June devoted to tackling illegal trade in caviar. Law enforcement agencies from around the world will discuss how to improve their capacities to detect illegal trade in and sales of caviar.

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