With National Caviar Day coming up on July 18th, it’s only natural for people to want to stock up in celebration of the delicious fish eggs of the mighty Sturgeon. But how sustainable is caviar anyway? Well, it depends on what type you’re buying, and research is a must.
The history of caviar
Caviar is an ancient delicacy, as the first written record of consumption was from Batu Khan’s time (grandson of Genghis Khan) in the 1240s. After soaring popularity all over the world once cold food travel was made available, Sturgeon, anadromous like salmon, has now become wiped out in Europe and are still in serious trouble.
These creatures have been on the planet for a very long time, so it’s important to understand the true implications. Sturgeons have been around for more than 200 million years, since the time of the dinosaurs!
The issue today
The large fish -some can weigh over 1,000 pounds- are slow to reach reproductive maturity, and they spawn intermittently. Factors such as habitat loss in rivers, toxic waste, and disrupted migration routes for spawning, and the poaching for caviar has put these fish on the decline.
It’s also the way in which the caviar is gathered, which isn't sustainable, to say the least. Almost all caviar is harvested from dead fish. Fishermen on the Caspian wait until the mature female Sturgeon, which is about 10 years old, are ready to migrate upstream and lay their eggs. Once caught, the sturgeon is slit open to remove the eggs. No wonder the numbers are plummeting!
Today, it’s rare to find a healthy population of white sturgeon. But science might be on the way to find something more sustainable, so people can enjoy their caviar with less guilt.
There are efforts being made to produce sustainable caviar. The future of caviar lies in sustainable, domestic aquaculture, something like we do at Caribbean Sustainable Fisheries (CSF). Recently, German researcher Angela Kohler watched a 30-year-old Sturgeon be killed, without even using the eggs because they were deemed too mature to sell. She took 9 years to come up with a sustainable way to “milk” the Sturgeons, where the eggs are massaged out of them, to produce “no-kill” caviar.
If the fish are deemed ready, a signaling protein is administered to the surgeon several days before the egg harvest. This induces labour and releases the eggs, which can be pumped from the belly with gentle massaging. This process can be repeated every 15 months, and sturgeons live for decades.
Other options are Robert Gardner’s American Caviar company, which raises Sturgeon and Caviar from Wild Hackleback Sturgeon and Paddlefish – which is a cousin of the Sturgeon, found in North American Rivers.
Also, Rainbow Trout caviar, produced in North Carolina, is another alternative. Salmon roe, which comes from Alaskan Salmon, is another sustainable choice.
We won't fault you for celebrating National Caviar Day, but at least make an effort to buy sustainably.
At CSF, we raise lobsters sustainable to support the local lobster population in the BVI. To learn more, or donate to the future of our fishery, please contact us here.