Current European Union member states and E.U. accession candidates are involved in sturgeon poaching and illegal production of caviar, scientists found.
According to new research, half of the commercial caviar is illegal — and in fact may not even be caviar at all.
A study published in the journal Current Biology says that a team of researchers have examined around 150 samples of commercial caviar and sturgeon meat originating from four European countries — Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine — which harbor some of the last remaining wild populations of this fish species.
Wild sturgeon fishing is banned across Europe.
To their surprise, some of the fish eggs contained no traces of sturgeon and therefore can’t be truly considered caviar; technically speaking they count as roe.
Even worse, the legality of these products is in question. Sturgeon, a critically endangered species, permits only caviar from farmed sturgeon to be sold internationally.
However, the research revealed a troublingly high percentage of illegal samples, indicating a failure in efforts to protect wild sturgeon species.
Europe is home to only four species of caviar-producing sturgeon – all of them living in the Danube River and the Black Sea. And all these species are protected by the 1998 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The study authors fear that the agreement does not help the sturgeon populations very much, given that the sample analysis revealed an alarming 21% of the tested caviar coming from wild sturgeons – a clear violation of the CITES.
Furthermore – 2% of the samples turned to be fake caviar in spite of labeling, originating from catfish and perch.
The study also shows that 29% of these products violated CITES regulations by getting labeled the caviar with incorrect information about the species and country of origin, and 32% constituted outright "consumer deception" for being sold as "wild" while actually being from a fish farm.
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The researchers blamed the high demand among consumers and the incompetence of European regulators and law enforcement agencies to control poaching, warning that sturgeon in the Danube River is on the brink of extinction.
Sturgeon (from Old English styrġa) is the common name for the 28 species of fish belonging to the family Acipenseridae. The earliest sturgeon fossils date to the Late Cretaceous, and are descended from other, earlier acipenseriform fish, which date back to the Early Jurassic period, some 174 to 201 million years ago.