Swiss Caviar Farmers Profit as Fishing Ban Fuels Price Surge

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
2 May 2006, at 1:00am

SWITZERLAND - Daniel Brunner decided to be Switzerland's first farmer of sturgeon after a ban on catching the fish drove prices of its Beluga caviar eggs to a record. Brunner, 36, plans to invest 1 million Swiss francs ($806,000) to convert a former sewage plant into a farm. Global sturgeon farming has risen fivefold since 2000 after poachers depleted fish supplies in the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea near Iran and Russia, prompting an embargo on wild roe. Caviar sales total $100 million a year and black market trade is five times as much, according to the Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Switzerland is the biggest importer per capita of caviar, which is sold for as much as $250 per ounce, about twenty times the price of silver. While Brunner says selling farmed roe is ``no problem,'' some retailers say it doesn't match up to wild varieties. ``The quality is lousy,'' says Reto Mathis, the 48-year-old owner of Mathis Food Affairs, a restaurant in the St. Moritz ski resort. Caviar from wild sturgeon ``will get more expensive and when it gets impossible, then I'll quit'' selling it. Switzerland, the European Union and the U.S. imported about 85 percent of all caviar traded legally between 1998 and 2003, according to Cambridge, England-based environmental group TRAFFIC International. Iran and Russia are the largest producers, accounting for about 60 percent of exports. Numbers of wild sturgeon have fallen as much as 30 percent in two years. Source: Bloomberg