History of Caviar
Sturgeon have been around for over 250 million years and are found only in the Northern Hemisphere. Some live most of their lives in brackish or salt water, but like salmon, return to fresh water for spawning. Unlike salmon, sturgeon can spawn multiple times throughout their lives, and can live to be over 100 years old.
Although is it not clear when people first ate caviar, its first written record of was from Batu Khan’s time (grandson of Genghis Khan) in the 1240s. The caviar industry started in Eurasia and around the Mediterranean. Sturgeon roe was heavily salted and packed in wooden casks. Caviar did not become worldly until the latter part of the 1800s when the French started importing the delicacy from Russia. Molossol, or lightly salted caviar which we generally eat today, was not available until chilled transportation was developed.
At one time there were several sturgeon species of great abundance in and around Western Europe which supplied the local European markets but with the increasing demand and no control on fishing and caviar trade, European sturgeon became extinct.
Near the end of the 1800s Atlantic sturgeon on the east coast and white sturgeon on the west coast of North America were discovered to have a roe quality comparable to that from Russian sturgeons.
There was so much caviar being produced in North America at that time that bars would serve the salty delicacy to encourage more beer drinking as peanuts are served today. At the turn of the 19th century there was more caviar going to Europe from North America than from Russia. By 1915 there were so few white sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon left that all fisheries were closed to both sport and commercial use. It was only in the late 1950s that a sport fishery was allowed on the West Coast for white sturgeon.
Once wild sturgeon stocks had been wiped out in North America and Europe, more than 95% of the world’s supply of caviar was obtained from sturgeon from the Caspian Sea in Russia and Iran. In the early 1950s.
The Russians began serious industrialization and started building dams on the major rivers so sturgeons, which spawn in fresh water, were blocked in their spawning runs. Russian scientists went to work figuring out how to artificially spawn sturgeon. Once they had determined how to do this, they built hatcheries below their dams, capturing males and females on their spawning run, processing most into caviar and meat, and using a relatively small number of mature males and females to spawn the next generations.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the strict controls on sturgeon harvest and caviar production had been diminished. The new free states found that caviar sales were a rapid way to generate cash. The Russians no longer have strong enforcement of the region so poaching is going uncontrolled and the caviar mafia has taken over much of the processing and distribution of the resulting caviar.I
Worldwide, the concern for wild stocks of sturgeon traditionally used primarily for the production of caviar, mostly in the Caspian Sea, has increased as these stocks came under duress after the break up of the Soviet Union and the uncontrollable poaching that followed. In 1998, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) added all species of sturgeon in the world not already listed by CITES onto Appendix II, which controls the international trade of products from these fish product to aid in the enforcement and regulation in international trade of all caviar.
The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on earth and its cultural and ecological legacy is of a priceless value to humanity. It is one of the most sensitive ecological systems in our hemisphere and the birthplace of one of the most wonderful fish species there is – the sturgeon. Unfortunately this precious basin full of live is at present in great danger because of oil and gas extraction as well as numerous unregulated releases of chemical and biological pollutants.
The oil in the Caspian basin is estimated to be worth over 12 trillion US-dollars. It is obvious that the five surrounding countries and the international oil companies want immediate access to exploit this treasure. At what price though? On top of this, underwater oil and gas pipelines additionally threaten the sensitive environmental equilibrium of the Caspian Sea. The example of last year’s explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico shows the seriousness of such catastrophes not only for humankind and the industry, but especially for the environment. One such accident in the Caspian Sea could irreversibly destroy it and with it its inhabitants.