Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fake caviar

Caviar, which is harvested from sturgeons and paddlefishes (Acipenseriformes), is one of the most expensive animal products in world trade. Not surprisingly, poaching is a major threat to the survival of sturgeon species worldwide. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessments in 2009, sturgeons are considered to be the most critically endangered group of animals worldwide. Since 1998, all 27 species of sturgeons and paddlefishes have been listed in the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which should support their protection from illegal trade. Consequently, any international trade of specimens (e.g., fingerlings or farmed fish), parts and products (e.g., caviar, meat, and fertilized eggs) is controlled and includes a mandatory universal caviar labeling system. With this labeling system, any primary sturgeon caviar containers, including tins, jars or boxes, regardless of the size, must bear a non-reusable label with a code providing all important information about the origin of the caviar. Although this caviar labeling system was developed to distinguish legal caviar from illegal caviar, market surveys using genetic tests for species identification have demonstrated that a considerable amount of mislabeled caviar is still in trade

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.

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