Iran’s farmed ‘black gold’ exports thrive
Iran’s exports of caviar, a prized delicacy that can fetch more than $100 an ounce, are set to hit 1.5 tonnes this year, agricultural officials say.
So far, 900 kilos of fish eggs, as caviar is, have been exported from the country’s aquafarms amid a ban on sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea where the world’s best caviar-bearing fish thrive, Iran Fisheries Organization’s Isa Golshahi said.
Each kilo of farmed caviar sells for $1,500-$1,600 in the market, the official said. Last year, Iran’s exports totaled about 1 tonne.
Iran is traditionally known as the origin of premium caviar, long reserved for royal courts and the gentry.
With wild sturgeon facing extinction, the country is turning to fish farming to maintain the business. In recent years, several plants have sprung up across Iran, with officials setting a target for 100 tonnes of caviar harvest a year.
In August, Iran opened a farm described as the Middle East’s largest on its Caspian shores to produce 30 tonnes of the other “black gold” a year on top of 2,000 tonnes of sturgeon meat which is highly valued for its texture.
The Caspian Sea is the natural breeding ground for the best sturgeon species including beluga but their stocks have severely depleted amid irregular fishing and poaching.
Sturgeon farming, however, is a time-consuming vocation which takes up to 18 years to raise female fish so that they become mature enough to spawn eggs.
Iran has also a comprehensive program to provide sturgeon stocks. Last year, the country released 3.074 million fingerlings into the Caspian Sea from its hatcheries as part of its conservation plan.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has imposed bans and set quotas in order to govern exports of wild sturgeon but those measures have failed to check illegal trade.
In 2010, the littoral Caspian states — Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – agreed to ban sturgeon fishing for five years and are likely to extend the regime this year.