Researchers from the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) and the WWF Austria analysed 27 caviar samples from Bulgaria and Romania using a combination of mtDNA testing and microsats.
Only ten labeled tins or jars were in agreement with the species code on their label. Four samples were mislabeled, containing caviar from another sturgeon species or more than one species. In at least one case of mislabeling the caviar was "upgraded" from a lower-priced species to a more expensive one. Six samples were counterfeit and should not have been declared as caviar at all. Three of these counterfeits were free from animal DNA and probably made entirely of artificial substances. One sample was identified as lumpsucker (Cyclopterus lumpus) whose eggs are commonly offered as caviar substitute. The other two counterfeits were most likely made of sturgeon meat.
Four other samples were of great concern. These were sold in restaurants or by street vendors as originating from wild Danube sturgeon, which means they were illegally caught. All four samples were identified as the critically endangered beluga sturgeon (Huso huso) whose population in the Danube region is on the brink of extinction.
Romania and Bulgaria are the only countries of the European Union where viable populations of sturgeons still occur in the wild, e.g. in the Black Sea and the Danube River. Although catch and trade bans were established in both countries, illegal fishing obviously continues. The results of our study demonstrate the weakness of sturgeon protection in Romania and Bulgaria. Therefore, we recommend enhancing conservation and enforcement efforts.