Crisis on sturgeon roe

As production slumps and prices soar, caviar is in short supply for the millennium celebrations

A

looming caviar shortage is threatening to take some of the glitz out of millennium parties as fish-egg prices soar and Russian production slumps.

The best black caviar, from sturgeon caught mainly in the Caspian Sea, is the hors d'oeuvre of choice of the rich and famous. It is growing increasingly scarce as poaching, pollution and disappearing spawning grounds take their toll on the Caspian's sturgeon population.

"It's almost critical,'' said Martin dams, executive vice-president for North merica at Paris-based Petrossian, the biggest caviar importer to the US. "It's frustrating. Demand will dramatically increase because of the millennium, and here we are with a lot less supply.''

Russian producers and foreign importers have raised prices by as much as 45 per cent this year, as demand from millennium revellers is expected to surge while the supply from the Caspian Sea declines.

Geneva-based Caviar House, with 40 gourmet food shops worldwide, estimates that worldwide demand is at about 350 tons, but only about 200 tons is available - about 110 tons of that from Russia. s prices rise, "caviar is more comparable to diamonds than simply food", said Thierry Uldry, managing director of Caviar House.

Russkaya Ikra, one of Russia's largest producers, said its exports would drop to about eight tons this year from 15 tons last year.

"We've seen a big drop in supply this year,'' said Vyacheslav Mironov, director at Russkaya Ikra. "We hope to make up the fall in production through the increase in prices.''

n ounce of Beluga caviar rose to about $75 (pounds 48) this year, from about $55 last year, Mr dams said.

The biggest drop in sales will probably be to airlines, which purchase about 50 per cent of the world supply for first-class passengers. Still, that drop in demand will be offset by a 40 per cent increase in retail demand expected in the fourth quarter for New Year's parties, according to Mr Uldry.

"We won't reach the quota for production this year due to poor weather conditions and supply problems,'' said Yuri Kokoryev, deputy director of the Russian ssociation of Fish Exporters and Producers.

Government officials are more optimistic, though no one in the industry agrees with their assessment.

"This year we plan to export 162 tons of black caviar, worth $35m to $40m,'' said Nikolai Yermakov, director of the State Fisheries Committee. "We are losing our position in the market.''

He said Russia exported about 168 tons last year, while other officials in the State Fisheries Committee put the figure at about 120 tons.

The Russian government also decreased caviar production after a quota on sturgeon catches was imposed in pril last year by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

Cites reduced Russia's export quota for beluga caviar this year to 3,000 kilograms, from 5,000 kilograms last year.

"We will initially suffer commercially because of the quotas,'' Mr dams said. "In the long term, though, they will save the industry. We have to save it.''

Russia is also increasing controls on poaching, which has illegally harvested as much as 100 tons of caviar annually, to secure the renewal of the sturgeon population.

"If this comes through, it will really solve a huge problem,'' Mr Uldry said.

Depending on the variety of sturgeon, a fish must survive for about seven to 20 years before it begins producing eggs.

The three main species of sturgeon are Sevruga, Osetra and Beluga, the most expensive and largest sturgeon which weighs up to one ton and can live for up to 300 years. Caviar from the Beluga sturgeon, with some living up to 300 years, is packed in Russia's trademark blue can sealed with a red rubber band.

Russian caviar competes against other caviar produced from the Caspian Sea, the world's largest inland sea, in Iran, Kazakhstan, and zerbaijan, and in Chinese rivers northeast of Mongolia. Still, a US trade embargo against Iran boosts demand for caviar from the former Soviet Union.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?