Illegal Caviar Trade in Europe
Wild caviar, a pricey delicacy made from sturgeon eggs, has been illegal for decades since poaching brought the fish to the brink of extinction. Today, legal, internationally tradeable caviar can only come from farmed sturgeon, and there are strict regulations in place to help protect the species. However, by conducting genetic and isotope analyses on caviar samples from Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine — nations bordering the remaining wild sturgeon populations — a team of sturgeon experts found evidence that these regulations are actively being broken. Their results, publishing on November 20 in the journal Current Biology, show that half of the commercial caviar products they sampled are illegal, and some don’t even contain any trace of sturgeon.
Conservation Efforts Undermined
The conservation status of the Danube sturgeon populations renders each individual important for their survival, and the observed intensity of poaching undermines any conservation effort,” write the researchers, led by Arne Ludwig of the Leibniz-Institute for Zoo & Wildlife Research.
Violation of CITES Regulations
Despite strict regulations and international labeling systems in place, the team found that 29% of the samples violated CITES regulations and trade laws, with another 32% categorized as “customer deception,” such as samples declared as wild products that actually originated from aquaculture.
Consumer Demand and Illegal Poaching
Our results indicate an ongoing demand for wild sturgeon products, which is alarming, since these products endanger wild sturgeon populations,” write the researchers. “The persistent demand fuels poaching and indicates that consumers do not fully accept aquaculture products as a substitute.
Urgent Need for Action
The large volume of illegal poaching activity could be an indicator that local seafood vendors are lacking adequate income opportunities, which might increase the pressure to engage in illegal fishing activity. The researchers stress the importance of taking action, and quickly, to address the ongoing illegal trade of caviar and protect the remaining sturgeon populations in Europe.