Russian caviar goes back on the European menu after nine years



Gourmands can rejoice – Russia yesterday lifted a nine-year ban on the export of sturgeon caviar to Europe. However, anyone who is looking forward to snacking on a few blini with beluga will need deep pockets, because the price for the caviar is set to be over £4,000 per kilogram.

Black caviar, the roe of the female sturgeon fish, is one of the world's most prized and expensive food items and is in great demand among millionaires around the world. But it has become scarcer as the population of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, where most of the fish are found, has shrunk to the brink of extinction. In 2002, Russia halted all exports of caviar.

Now that ban has been lifted and the first shipment to Europe is expected next week. But to begin, exports will be limited to just 150kg a year, Russian fisheries officials said yesterday. The roe will come from fish farmed in new special breeding centres in the south of Russia. In the near future, the Russians hope that farmed sturgeon will produce tons of caviar for the export market. Officials claim that roe from farmed fish tastes just as good as the wild variety.

Russia's top fisheries official, Andrei Krainy, said that the demand in Europe for Russian caviar was limitless. He said: "Retailers know that however much they order, it will all be sold."

Caviar used to be popular in Russia itself, and during the Soviet times was readily available as an affordable luxury. Now sales of caviar from wild sturgeon within Russia are limited to around nine tons per year, with even tiny pots containing just a few mouthfuls going for over £100 in Moscow. Poaching is still widespread, and many Moscow markets offer black-market caviar, with prices starting at around £1,000 per kilogram. In cities on the Caspian Sea, such as Astrakhan, thousands of people make a living through the black-market industry and visitors to local markets are offered black caviar as if they are illegal drugs – with a conspiratorial nudge from stall-holders speaking in hushed voices.

In recent years, the five Caspian Sea countries – Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan – have mooted a complete ban on fishing in the Caspian, but this has not come into force. Still, the five countries have agreed not to export the roe, as the sturgeon – one of the oldest life forms on the planet – nears extinction due to poaching and overfishing. Wildlife conservationists say only a complete ban on fishing can save the sturgeon.

The sturgeon, which can grow to up to five metres in length and has been around since the time of the dinosaurs, is particularly vulnerable to over fishing. The fish can live for up to 100 years, and can take up to 20 years before they are able to reproduce, meaning that once stocks are depleted it takes a very long time for them to rebound.

Mr Krainy said that the Russians were working on a new law to punish caviar poachers, which would put the crime on the same level as drug trafficking.

Russia has set up a number of fish farms in the south of the country that will soon be able to produce up to 15 tons of caviar a year. The sturgeon at these farms take between five and seven years to mature, and techniques are used that harvest the roe without killing the fish, so the Russians are hoping that there will be a new, sustainable way of producing caviar that will provide more of the "black gold" for the domestic and export markets.

Despite the farms, it is unlikely that the increased production will be enough to bring down prices significantly; it also will fail to deter poachers, who can make thousands of pounds from each sturgeon fish they catch.

"You shouldn't have any illusions about it, black caviar is never going to be cheap. It will always be expensive," Alexander Savelyev, a spokesman for Russia's Federal Fishing Agency, told journalists yesterday.

At the peak of caviar production during the Soviet Union, the country exported up to 1,500 tons a year, so even if the target of 15 tons a year is met, it is clear that demand will still outstrip supply and prices for the luxury item will remain high.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home