The fall of the USSR was bad news for royalty of the Sturgeon world as its rise had been for other royalty on dryland. The governing body on the ex-USSR side of the Caspian Sturgeon policy had no fuel for action and the mafias competed in destroying this industry in the Caspian and Black Sea as if it was a noble goal and could balance all the other “good” things they were doing in the Wild-East, which was the Ex-USSR in the 1990s. The story was not much better for the other 24 species and their natural habitats from Siberia to Northern Europe to North America. This led the range nations, which had been meeting now for over a decade, to place some controls over Sturgeon and Caviar trade in order to agree to have their activities, and those of smugglers by extension, curtailed through the 1998 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (СІТЕS). Annex I and II of CITES deal with Sturgeon species, protecting them from overexploitation in all range nations, with a few exceptions where limited wild fishing under strict national controls is still allowed by legal fisheries: Canada, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and USA.
The agreement to allow for Sturgeon population recovery and avoid a full collapse covers the Sturgeon and its (by)products, not just the Caviar , in exclusion of other fish, their roe, or substitutes. It also sets quotas for all species of Sturgeon and paddlefish as well and requires issuance of permits or certificates to regulate trade and traceability. Though comprehensive, yet still more was necessary to put a full stop to the lightening demise of Caspian Sturgeons almost a decade later. Now that the producer side of the problem had been addressed, the consumer side had to be addressed as well in order to balance the scales and make a difference. In 2005, the US, the largest Caviar market worldwide by far, prohibited the import and sale of wild Sturgeon Caviar. In 2006-8, the EU, the next big market, also fully accepted CITES rules. Furthermore, in the EU (and some other countries), Caviar can only refer to Sturgeon/paddlefish eggs covered under CITES.
The next step in this seemingly impossible endeavor had to take place where the problem was manifesting at the source, if this circle was to be rounded shut. Consequently, short national moratoria led to one littoral state moratorium in 2011, banning all commercial Sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea, except for research and reproduction purposes. Finally, it was realized that all loopholes had to be closed and they had to go “all-in” if to really prevent smuggling by any meaningful manner. This was what led to a total ban midway through the second decade of this century.
Today, all Caviar containers must carry a standardized non-reusable (seal/tear evidence) label, as required by CITES, indicating all information as regards the content and its origin. It is further required that the label specify whether this Caviar has been packaged for domestic or export markets and commercial or non-commercial purposes. In protection of this market, it is moreover required that the term “Caviar” can only be used commercially for Sturgeon eggs and no other type of fish roe.
The result of these agreements culminating in the rounding of the CITES has turned out to be rather successful due to the will and intent of producing countries but at the behest and beckoning of the US and the EU, the largest and most lucrative markets for this product, and producers themselves. Therefore, Caviar lovers the world over have benefited from this governmental collaboration which has been adhered to more or less successfully since 2004 and can be cited as a good example of cooperation in advancement of conservation, a win-win situation.
There are two types of label worldwide, depending on whether the country of origin and the country of process/packaging are the same or not. All the required information is coded and shall include:
1. CITES Standard Species Code
2. CITES Source Code (W for Wild and C for Captive)
3. ISO Country of Origin Code
4. Harvest Year
5. Official Registration Code of Processing Plant
6. Lot Identification Number
7. CITES Export Permit Number
or CITES Re-Export Certificate Number
Still, smuggling has not disappeared with Russia’s chaos and altogether Russia (40%) and Iran (10%) still account for around half the smuggled wild Sturgeon in the world. Albeit this amount is thankfully not as high as before the bans, but according to CITES it is still as much as legal aquaculture production worldwide. The balance though is moving in the right direction. Let us all then, producer, marketer and consumer, do our utmost to tip the balance in favor of conservation and a bountiful future for next generations of both fish and man by refusing to trade and consume wild sturgeon whenever and wherever it is illegal to do so.
Caviar Classic only sources legal Caviar, adhering to all CITES rules, as demonstrated on each package.