This menu organises news, documents, projects, profiles and links into key topics, and the menu along the top divides the contents of the site by type.
Bycatch / discards
Chain of custody / Supply chain management
Corruption / mismanagement
Flag state issues
Governance / management
International trade / WTO
Monitoring, control and surveillance
Port state issues
Retail / consumers
18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
Caviar surges to record as Russia stalks snatchers of sturgeon
Russian border guards in an Mi-8 helicopter swoop down on a blue fiberglass boat in the gray waters of the Caspian Sea along the frontier with Kazakhstan.
Three men in the unmarked vessel peer up then speed off before the chopper intercepts them. Hovering over the boat, officers look for the sturgeon whose eggs are the world's most expensive caviar. This time, their hold is empty and the men go free.
"Poachers drop all their catch into the water when they feel danger, and then you can't do anything about them,'' Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Trostoshenko, 48, who supervises patrols tracking the illicit fishing in the Astrakhan region, says as the helicopter heads farther out to sea.
Russia is stepping up efforts to stop the illegal trade in wild sturgeon caviar, adding anti-poaching patrols and raiding markets after banning exports to save the fish from extinction. That's pushed the price of caviar from other countries to records. The number of sturgeon worldwide has plummeted more than 97 percent in 15 years, the environmental group WWF says.
Sturgeon stocks were decimated as poaching went unchecked after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Dams on the Volga River reduced spawning grounds, and drilling for oil and gas disturbed their habitat in the Caspian Sea.
"Any kind of control was lost on the rivers and at sea,'' says Alexey Vaisman, the senior officer at WWF in Moscow responsible for TRAFFIC, the environmental group's efforts to monitor wildlife trade. "The situation is dramatic.''
Patrols in the Russian part of the Caspian seized 334 boats last year, destroying more than 62 kilometers (39 miles) of nets, 63,000 hooks, and 6.7 tons of sturgeon meat and caviar.
The sturgeon is one of the oldest fish in existence and grows as long as 18 feet. Those in the Caspian, such as the beluga, yield about 90 percent of the world's caviar.
The black eggs, or roe, first appeared on the Russian royal table under Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century. Soviet production peaked at 2,770 tons in 1977.
Russia banned commercial sturgeon fishing in 2002 and stopped exporting wild caviar four years ago. Other Caspian nations, including Iran, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, still permit sturgeon fishing.
All of the countries except Iran have verbally agreed to a five-year moratorium beginning as early as 2009, says Andrey Krainy, Russia's fisheries chief in Moscow.
Russian caviar sold abroad is illegal unless the container specifies it came from farmed sturgeon, Krainy says.
"We don't export anything and won't be doing so this year, not a single egg,'' he says.
Harrods in London sells 50 grams of beluga caviar, the most prized variety, for 435 pounds ($860), a 60 percent increase since October. The caviar is produced in Kazakhstan.
At the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Moscow's central Tverskaya thoroughfare, prices have doubled in the past six months, though it still serves 20 orders a day, says executive chef Chris Southwick. The hotel uses caviar from farmed sturgeon.
In addition to chasing poachers and raiding markets, the government plans to subsidize hatcheries to increase the amount of farmed caviar. Russia produced about four tons of farmed caviar last year, and that may rise to 100 tons within seven years as more people invest in the industry, Krainy says.
Russia may also create a state monopoly that would control all aspects of the sturgeon trade.
Back on the water, inspector Alexei Egorov spends eight hours a day patrolling two 55-kilometer (34-mile) passages in the Volga Delta and a 30-kilometer stretch of the Caspian he has supervised for eight years.
Egorov, 52, searches the waters for poachers' nets and the lines with 3-inch hooks that are cast into the Volga Delta to ensnare sturgeon on their way up the river to spawn. Even after a seizure, the traps are usually back in place within a few days, Egorov says.
Poachers, typically in groups of three or four, have three- engine boats that are more powerful than the patrol boats and use GPS devices to mark the location of nets, Trostoshenko says.
"It's like an arms race,'' he says. "The moment something new hits the markets, they have it, and then we catch up.''
This season, between April 21 and May 15, patrols seized more than 30 vessels, he says.
With poachers facing as many as seven years in jail, the crackdown is phasing out the illegal caviar trade, which peaked at $1 billion in 2006, Krainy says.
All contraband caviar is now destroyed under a law that took effect in August, eliminating a loophole that permitted the sale of confiscated roe. While poached caviar is still available at Moscow markets for about 18,000 rubles ($763) a kilogram, it's harder to find, Krainy says.
Hundreds of people are still involved in illegal poaching on the Caspian. Fishermen can make as much as 1 million rubles in one expedition, compared with the 7,000 rubles the average worker takes home in Astrakhan, Trostoshenko says.
"They are scared,'' he says. "We keep destroying their catch and their nets, and snatch their boats.''
click to view source website
Issues/International trade / WTO
Eastern Europe and North Asia/Azerbaijan
Eastern Europe and North Asia/Kazakhstan
Eastern Europe and North Asia/Russian Federation
Eastern Europe and North Asia/Turkmenistan
Issues/Retail / consumers