The global efforts to curtail the fishing and exporting of caviar from the Caspian Sea – the historical center of sturgeon fisheries – have squeezed supplies and driven up prices. Overfishing, pollution and poaching had depleted wild populations.
But there is good news.
There is a shift to aquaculture and captive breeding of sturgeons in an increasing number of countries all over the world. Farms are moving toward sustainable techniques.
The trend has created business opportunities for sturgeon farms, even in unlikely places like the United Arab Emirates and South Korea.
Some caviar producers have tried making an incision in the fish’s belly to collect the roe in a piscine version of a Caesarean section. In recent years, fisheries biologists in countries including Iran and the United States have developed techniques that are less invasive and stressful. Instead of poking the fish with a screwdriver to find out whether they are ready to spawn, farms now can use a biopsy technique or ultrasound.
When Han Sang-hun in Chungju, South Korea, brought 200 sturgeons on a chartered plane from Russia in 1997, South Korean officials regarded the alien fish with a level of suspicion that the owner of a fish pond might reserve for an invasion of sharks. (The sturgeon, because of its prickly looks, is called the armored shark in Korean.)
The 200 sturgeon multiplied. Now there are 50,000.
In South Korea, when the rich talk about gourmet food, they still think mainly of raw fish or the choicest cuts of beef. Mr. Han has been trying to change that, sponsoring haute caviar-and-Champagne clubs.
After 15 years of dedicating himself to his sturgeons, he compared his farm to a factory with “50,000 workers who can’t speak or form a labor union.”
“The fish will live long after I am gone. I am thinking about who’s going to take care of them when I am no longer here,” Mr. Han said. “Raising sturgeon, I have learned a lot about time, human mortality and environmental preservation.”
Source: New York Times, May 6