We want to grow sturgeon. This can actually be a pretty controversial topic here in Florida so I wanted to talk about why we want to do this, and why we think it’s a good move for social and environmental justice.
The biggest reason is that wild sturgeon are in a lot of trouble– this group of fish is one of the most endangered families of species in the world because of poaching for their caviar. North America’s sturgeon are still reeling from a caviar fishing binge that happened over 100 years ago to fuel the export market. The Caspian Sea is the main caviar fishery today. The US and other countries have made valiant efforts through CITES (Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species), their own endangered species laws to stop poached caviar from coming into their borders, and strong publicity campaigns from activists to let people know about the risk to sturgeon species from caviar consumption. This is awesome. It is good that so many of us don’t want to be the species that ends a fish that outlived T. rex.
But unfortunately, US law and advocacy mean nothing in Russia. (Don’t feel bad America– Russian law and advocacy don’t mean much in Russia either.) The caviar trade in the Caspian Sea basin cannot be stopped by Western law enforcement or social efforts. It just can’t. Common sense, stewardship, and even international wrath mean nothing to organized crime.
You can’t force someone to change if they don’t want to. You know what you can do? Take measures to protect yourself and others from the consequences of their reckless behavior. In our case, that means farming sturgeon.
There’s a death spiral with poaching endangered species. The fewer there are, the more the price of their bodies goes up, and the harder people hunt them. I found an interesting thing while doing caviar market research. Golden caviar from albino sturgeon commands a premium. I saw the price climb year by year to $24,000 per kilogram– $24,000 per kilogram, you guys!– in 2012. And now this year nobody carries it. It’s gone. Death spiral.
Farming caviar throws a wrench into the death spiral. It stops the price climb– and the incentive to overhunt– in its tracks. Each kilogram that comes off a farm doesn’t just replace a kilogram from a wild fish. It also drops the price you can charge for a kilogram of caviar because it’s no longer such a rarity. That price drop means poachers give it up because it isn’t worth it anymore. And we can do all that from right here in the US– we don’t need to go over there and cause some kind of international law enforcement incident to make this happen.
So that’s why we think farming caviar is a good deal for world sturgeon conservation in general. We also believe that we can do it in a way that respects our local Florida environment and aquifer and build northern Florida’s economy on a sustainable basis. More on that to come.