Study finds questionable sturgeon products on the Ukrainian market

© Ralf Gemecke

A study of sturgeon caviar sold by Ukrainian retailers was recently carried out by WWF Ukraine, OSCE, Ukraine’s State Fishery Agency and volunteers. Due to the high price of sturgeon caviar – up to 6,000 Euros per kilogram  – sturgeons are on the brink of extinction.

Of the six wild sturgeon species in Ukraine two have disappeared (Ship sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris) and European sturgeon (Acipenser sturio). The rest are critically endangered or vulnerable.

The main threat to sturgeons is poaching. If recognized by customers, CITES labeling is a powerful tool against the illegal international trade of sturgeons and other endangered species. However, the volunteers involved in the research didn’t find a CITES label on any of the 21 collected samples  — both on the imported ones where CITES labeling is compulsory and on the Ukrainian ones where the labels are not required, but are still recommended. The samples came from 4 caviar producers – 2 Ukrainian (Sturgeon and Bester), 1 German (DESIETRA) and one from Astrakhan, the Russian Federation (Russian Caviar, JSC).

Another problem was that 4 of the 21 samples the volunteers provided were in fact not sturgeon caviar, 3 were an imitation of caviar and 1 was caviar from Bowfin fish (Amia calva). Yet another sample (from Russian Caviar, JSC) was also likely an imitation of caviar because it had a very low cost and the study could not determine the species it came from.

“The last producer was the most questionable because it wasn’t registered under CITES as a caviar exporter. So my first recommendation would be to avoid this manufacturer. The products might be counterfeit, substandard or include illegally-sourced caviar that could be from wild sturgeons”, said Natalya Gozak, project coordinator at WWF Ukraine. The producer also hadn’t identified the sturgoen species it was selling.

All 27 species of sturgeons and paddlefish have been listed in the Appendices of CITES since 1998. This means their international shipments must be accompanied by CITES permits. People are allowed to import up to 125 grams of sturgeon products per person without the permit. However, the product must still have the mandatory CITES label, be legally acquired and carried in the personal baggage.

These rules apply to both wild and aquaculture sturgeon products and include all parts of the fish: caviar, meat, fingerlings, fertilized eggs, etc. We recommend that customers always look for the CITES label when buying sturgeon products (see the picture). It  must seal the container and contain a product code with 6 elements: 3-letter species code, caviar source (W for “wild”, C for “captive”, F for female bred in captivity with at least one parent originating from the wild), country of origin, year of harvest, registration code of the repackaging plant, lot identification number.

Sturgeon fishing was officially banned in Ukraine in 2000. It is also banned in the other countries neighbouring the Black Sea: Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Turkey and the Russian Federation. However, wild-sourced sturgeon products coming from these countries still find their way to the market.

You can find more information on the results of the study in this report (in Ukrainian).

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