September 30, 2005

US to ban Caspian beluga caviar imports–group

ALMATY (Reuters) - The United States will ban imports of
beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea from Friday because of
concerns that the fish may die out in the wild, an
environmental campaign group said.

The numbers of beluga, the rarest and most valuable
sturgeon which produces the tastiest caviar, have fallen by an
estimated 90 percent in the past 20 years as a result of
overfishing, pollution and illegal trade, experts say.

The United States imports 60 percent of the world's beluga
caviar, environmental group Caviar Emptor said in a statement.

Most caviar comes from the Caspian and is sold by the
littoral states: Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia.

"The beluga sturgeon, one of the most valuable and
threatened fishes in the world, greatly deserves this chance
for survival, but it will be a long road to recovery," Ellen
Pikitch, director of Miami-based Pew Institute for Ocean
Science, said in the statement received by Reuters in the
Kazakh city of Almaty.

According to Caviar Emptor, which groups the Pew Institute
and two environmental campaign bodies, the U.S. ban on imports
comes into effect on Friday.

Last year, the four exporting countries agreed to cut their
overall Caspian caviar quotas by about 20 percent and reduced
beluga quotas by half, but campaigners say widespread illegal
fishing undermines such efforts.

No producing beluga females have been found in the wild
this year in Kazakhstan, according to experts quoted by Caviar
Emptor, who also expressed fears that the species might die out
in the Caspian.