Changing attitudes and social norms could be the way forward to effectively address the illegal caviar trade

With caviar trafficking driving endangered sturgeon and paddlefish species towards extinction, a collaborative study released today highlights the negative impact of illegal trade and recommends how wildlife crime across the globe can be addressed.

Produced by TRAFFIC, WWF, U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre (U4 ACRC), Northumbria and Utrecht Universities, Corruption and wildlife crime: A focus on caviar tradeexamines how corruption along the production chain facilitates the flow of illegal caviar, to identify possible intervention strategies.

The study identifies a large range of illegal and corrupt practices. These include bribery, the abuse of scientific fishing permits as a cover to legalise catch of wild sturgeon or even cases of “black washing” – the misdeclaration of legally farmed caviar as “wild-sourced” because of the higher price that attracts. The authors describe the latter as a precedent for wildlife crimes, and “possibly unique to the caviar industry.”

According to Louisa Musing, Research Officer-Europe, TRAFFIC, effective elimination of illegal trade is the only way to sustainably regulate the caviar market and to allow sturgeon stocks to recover from over-exploitation.

Corruption is a severe threat to wildlife conservation globally: the study recommends adoption of a “top-down and bottom-up approach” to address corruption within wildlife crime given the large differences between commodity types. For example, smuggling caviar uses different mechanisms to smuggling timber due to the scale of the commodity and different ways of shipping it. For dealing with corruption generally, social norms should be considered and social network analysis conducted to understand how corrupt wildlife crime networks operate in practice and to develop interventions to mitigate or reduce corruption taking place.

“Changing attitudes through understanding and changing the social norms should work hand in hand with an enforcement orientated approach and is key to addressing this most intractable yet critical wildlife crime issue,” said Rob Parry-Jones, WWF Wildlife Crime Initiative Lead.

The project “LIFE for Danube Sturgeons” already works with law enforcement authorities on identifying poaching and illegal caviar trade practices in the project countries along the Lower Danube. The ultimate purpose of those joint activities and collaborative work is to decrease the presure on wild sturgeon populations, and to save one of the oldest inhabitants of the Danube river that impacts the entire river system, part of the WWF’s conservation programme in the Northern hemisphere.


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Notes for editors

Corruption and wildlife crime: A focus on caviar tradeis the output of a collaborative effort involving wildlife trade and conservation experts from TRAFFIC and WWF, and anticorruption experts and academics from U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre at the Chr. Michelsen Institute; Utrecht and Northumbria Universities.

This press release is based on the information that was officially released last week by TRAFFIC, available at

It can be downloaded at:

For more information:
Roselina Peneva, WWF Regional Communications Officer,

About WWF

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organisations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.


TRAFFIC is a leading non-governmental organisation working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development whose mission is to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. More information at

About U4

U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre (U4 ACRC) works to reduce the harmful impact of corruption on society, sharing research and evidence to help international development actors get sustainable results. U4 is a permanent centre at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) in Norway. CMI is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research institute with social scientists specialising in development studies.