Russian caviar goes back on the European menu after nine years

 

Moscow

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.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
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 iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers