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31 Aug, 2007 00:53

Fight to conserve 'black gold' continues

The Russian President will personally take the lead in fighting illegal caviar farming when he meets officials in the city of Astrakhan later today. An estimated 90% of the market is supplied by poachers.

Black caviar is often called black gold. To buy just a hundred grams on the international market you'll have to pay $US 800. Despite being the source of much of the world's caviar it costs around $US 1,000 in Russia. Further price increases are expected as sturgeon products are becoming increasingly limited on the domestic market.

In the last four years, the Russian authorities have not allowed any industrial sturgeon fishing. Therefore, the only caviar allowed for sale must have come from confiscated stock.

Nevertheless, the Agriculture Ministry believes that as much as 90% of the available caviar is from poachers with false documents. In an attempt to eliminate this illegal trade, new regulations introduced in August mean that all confiscated sturgeon products should be destroyed and not sold on.

With the month of August not yet finished, the authorities have already seized over $US 2 MLN worth of illegal black caviar from Moscow supermarkets alone.

The intent of the legislation is to remove the major economic incentives for poaching in the Caspian and Azov seas, where most of world's caviar originates.

Only farmed fishing of sturgeon in those areas is currently permitted, and several breeding centres are working to restore the population.

Around 46% of sevruga, 60% of osetra and 99% of beluga sturgeon in the Caspian have been bred in fisheries.

The farms also provide the only legal caviar. Only stock that isn't suitable for breeding is sold for human consumption.

President Putin joined top Russian officials in the southern city of Astrakhan to discuss how to fight illegal black caviar farming.

President Putin will personally take the lead in tackling the crisis facing Russia's fishing industry when he meets officials in the city of Astrakhan later today. A particular concern is illegal caviar farming.

Russia's Interior Ministry says a recent crackdown has seen 100 kilogrammes of poached caviar seized in Moscow alone.

While in Astrakhan, President Putin has visited Russia's scientific sturgeon breeding fishery to inspect new breeding technology.

The centre was opened in 1994 and now it plays a major role in restoring the sturgeon population of the Caspian Sea.

However, the number of industrially reared fish has been not enough to repair the damage caused by poaching, and specialists are cautious about whether the new regulations will be effective.