Putting the Skids on Roe
Caviar is named after the Persian word khaviyar, meaning “bearing eggs.” In this case, the eggs come from marine animals whose communities are ravaged from generations of exploitation.
Caviar commerce historically involved clubbing a sturgeon on the head and extracting the animal’s ovaries. To this day, the roe is often extracted through cutting the fish, then stitching up the wound to keep the sturgeon alive and commercially productive—yet the practice is often fatal. A collaboration between Friends of Animals and the conservation group WildEarth Guardians will shield these animals through a combination of vigorous public outreach and a petition to add 15 sturgeon communities to the U.S. endangered species list. If they are listed as “endangered,” commerce in these fish will be unlawful for anyone subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
The listing petition is an emergency measure: If sturgeon keep losing habitat and falling prey to the lucrative caviar trade, their only chance for survival might be in captivity. We find that future unacceptable.
But by the time the U.S. government moves to list them, it could be too late. So we’re also asking chefs to expressly reject sturgeon meat and caviar. The trend in farmed and even “ecofriendly” caviar is deceptive: it usurps habitat that ought to belong to thriving marine animal communities. Moreover, sturgeon farming makes it possible to illegally kill free-living sturgeon and pass the parts off as farm-raised. The sturgeon market also creates an incentive to catch free-living, mature fish as breeding stock.
Online commerce is another key issue. Caviar (marketed by species name or as Kaluga, Osetra, Sevruga or Karaburun caviar) is currently sold through Amazon.com by a number of vendors, so WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals recently requested that the CEO of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, halt the sale of caviar and other products derived from the sturgeon communities named in our petition to the federal government.
“The caviar trade is the primary threat to these species, and many people buy caviar online,” said Taylor Jones of WildEarth Guardians.
Sturgeon are described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as the most threatened group of animals on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. But if we work to defend them from North America, we can make an impact. This is because North American demand for caviar is a massive driver of the trade in Russia and Iran—both legal and illegal, for shoppers’ demand far exceeds the supply. Some caviar traders circumvent the law by using false species labels, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora last year expressed pessimism about efforts to control caviar smuggling. So the whole idea of using sturgeon is a problem—not just illegal use.
What We Can All Do: Just Say No to Sturgeon Roe
Support Friends of Animals’ and WildEarth Guardians’ campaign by sharing this article, and calling on chefs, restaurateurs, retailers, airlines and your friends to avoid products made from the sturgeon species, including caviar and sturgeon meat.
Avoid and tell your friends about isinglass, a substance obtained from swim bladders that is used as a specialty glue or in the production of some beers and wines. (Shopping tip: Explore Barnivore.com. It will help steer you clear of any wine or beer using isinglass.)
Inform Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos that you support Friends of Animals’ and WildEarth Guardians’ campaign. Use this article to explain why you want Amazon.com to stop selling caviar from the marine animals we have petitioned the United States government to list as endangered. Send your comments to email@example.com
Accentuate the Positive: Include a Cavi·Art Tasting at Your Next Party!
We heard this Danish product was a hit at the New York City Vegetarian Food Festival. At just about $10 a jar it’s a lot gentler than regular caviar on the wallet as well as on sea life. Could this product inspire online retailers and hosts of elegant affairs to drop caviar made from sturgeon, and try a new paradigm?
Cavi·Art is a bit lighter than fish roe, with a less oily feel. It’s showy, versatile and great fun to experiment with: vibrant, delightful and real in its own right. Start with traditional water crackers and whip up a few canapés sashimi-style, with avocado, pea shoots and a drop of tamari. Or peel and grate a small potato, and pan-fry it with a bit of Spectrum Organics’ canola oil and sea salt, for a potato pancake to garnish with a festive medley of Sour Supreme (by Tofutti) and chives, and a spoonful of apple sauce. Or how about Cavi·Art with a drop of habanero hot sauce, a bit of avocado, sour cream and bell pepper?
This is a great conversation piece for a party, whether fun or fancy, laudable for its taste as well as the way it advances respect for the ocean’s bio-community. Chef Trish Sebben-Krupka says: “I think this will appeal both to people who liked caviar, and those who have never tried it or are put off by the fishy, inky taste of actual caviar.”
Cavi·Art’s distributor, Plant Based Foods, Inc., offers an elegant website, easy ordering and outstanding customer service. We’ve enjoyed all of the distributor’s vegan offerings: yellow, orange, black, ginger and wasabi Cavi·Art. We bought three jars of the product, but to ensure we tried all five of the vegan varieties (UPDATE: The salmon roe, which had contained carmine, is now vegan; it has the red, larger beads and tastes delicious), Robin, who handles U.S. distribution, included a jar each of wasabi and ginger varieties with our order gratis, knowing we were reviewing this product for the Friends of Animals website and VeganMeans.com. We liked all five varieties and were especially excited by the recipes Trish has come up with using the wasabi and ginger varieties. Living by our motto “Spare an animal: eat a vegetable” has never seemed so posh!
Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians Work to Defend:
Sturgeon of Western Europe
The olive-hued Acipenser naccarii (Adriatic sturgeon), once thrived in waters from Italy to Greece. Killed for meat, they are down to perhaps 250 in their marine habitat.
Acipenser sturio (Baltic sturgeon) can grow to 16 feet long. Caviar traders have reduced them to a single reproductive population in the Garonne River in France.
The Caspian Sea, Black Sea, and Sea of Azov: the Heart of the Caviar Trade
The olive-grey Acipenser gueldenstaedtii (called Russian or Azov-Black Sea or Danube sturgeon) and Acipenser nudiventris (Ship, Spiny, or Thorn sturgeon) have been commercially exploited and caught as by-catch.
Acipenser persicus (Persian sturgeon) are exploited for caviar and suffer habitat loss from dams and pollution. Acipenser stellatus (Star sturgeon) have been devastated by legal and illegal exploitation for meat and caviar.
Sturgeon of the Aral Sea and Tributaries
Three sturgeon species, Pseudoscaphirhynchus fedtschenkoi, Pseudoscaphirhynchus hermanni, and Pseudoscaphirhynchu kaufmanni, have declined or disappeared along with the Aral Sea. Dangerous heavy metals and run-off from animal agribusiness is turning their habitat into a dead zone.
Sturgeon of the Amur River Basin, Sea of Japan, Yangtze River, and Sea of Okhotsk
Acipenser mikadoi (Sakhalin sturgeon) can grow to 8 feet in length and were historically common in Japanese markets; now, only 10–30 spawning adults survive.
Increasing pollution from Russian and Chinese agriculture is threatening Acipenser schrenckii (Amur sturgeon), which have declined an estimated 95 percent. Also native to China and Russia, Huso dauricus (Kaluga or Great Siberian sturgeon) are among the world’s largest freshwater fishes, exceeding 18 feet in length and one ton in weight. They are heavily poached for caviar.
Acipenser baerii (Siberian sturgeon) are fished for caviar and have lost nearly half their spawning habitat from dam construction. Acipenser dabryanus, (Yangtze sturgeon) may only survive due to stocking, and there is no evidence that stocked animals are reproducing naturally.
The massive Acipenser sinensis (Chinese sturgeon) were deemed a major commercial resource in the 1960s. Not even 300 individuals swim free.