Is Sturgeon Caviar Illegal?

Last updated on February 23rd, 2023 at 10:06 am

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The wild sturgeon is a critically endangered species, so the US Fish & Wildlife banned wild sturgeon caviar 20 years back. Soon after, the highly coveted pure Beluga sturgeon caviar got outlawed.

So, nowadays, we have farm-raised hybrid caviar as an alternative.

Most expensive caviar

Have you thought about which is the most expensive caviar in the world? Don’t think anymore, we have the answer for you.

In the list below, we look at the top eight most expensive caviar in the world:

  • White Gold Caviar – Also known as ‘Strottarga Bianco caviar’ – it is the most expensive caviar produced by a highly rare albino sturgeon which is between 60 and 100 years old. It costs more than $100,000 per tin as it is also mixed with 24-carat gold leaf.
  • Almas Caviar – Also known as Iranian caviar, it is produced by the Iranian beluga sturgeon and originates from the Caspian Sea. It is available at only a handful of caviar houses and costs more than $34,000 per tin.
  • Russian Volga Reserve Ossetra Caviar – Also known as Volga Reserve Roe, making this variety involves traditional Russian techniques & long harvesting process. It costs on average $600 per tin.
  • Sevruga Classic Grey Caviar – Also known as Sevruga, this variety originates from the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. It has a much shorter harvesting period and costs more than $150 per tin.
  • Imperial Golden Osetra Caviar – It comes from the rare Osetra sturgeon and originates from the Caspian Sea. On average, it costs more than $120 per ounce.
  • American Hackleback Caviar – Originating from the Mississippi River basins, this variety comes from the Shovelnose sturgeon. It costs well above $100 per tin on average.
  • Kaluga Hybrid Caviar – Also known as River Beluga Caviar, it originates from the Amur River near China & Russia. It can cost at least $30 per half ounce on average.
  • American Paddlefish Caviar – It certainly is one of the less expensive caviar options out there, costing more than $20 an ounce. It is a great option for those who want to try this delicacy for the first time.

Can you get caviar without killing the sturgeon?

Man holding Caviar

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Traditionally, killing the sturgeon is the common way to harvest caviar – although this is not the only option. A sturgeon, like any other fish, can release its eggs naturally.

Furthermore, with modern fish-farming techniques, it is possible to extract the caviar without harming or killing the sturgeon. Unfortunately, the classic method is still popular among many farms as it is the most optimal way to preserve the quality and consistency of the caviar.

The cruelty-free method involves hormone therapy along with modern milking techniques or C-section surgery to get stable eggs, without harming the fish in the process. It is not possible to collect and eat the eggs after fertilization, they become inedible as they enter the water.

The new milking process or the Köhler process involves injecting the ovulating fish with a signaling protein to separate the eggs from the membrane sac so are easily collected. In certain situations, it might be necessary to sedate the fish to protect it from undue stress.

The no-kill method has been highly successful and has kept conservationists happy. This makes the process more sustainable, as sturgeon are on the verge of extinction.

Furthermore, this method also helps fish farmers to save costs as a single sturgeon can produce egg rows multiple times in her life without dying after the first time.

Why is beluga caviar so expensive?

The beluga sturgeon is the largest of all sturgeon species and also the only carnivorous one. It is one of the oldest species, going back more than 200 million years.

The time-consuming reproduction cycle is not the only reason for the high cost of this caviar variety. On average, the retail price for this would hover around $25,000 per kilogram – making it the most high-value food on the planet.

The reasons for such s high cost come from the following factors:

  • Fish type – Caviar that comes from a rare species of sturgeon would naturally command a higher price. Due to over-fishing and poaching along with increasing water pollution, prices are set to go up further as the sturgeon population dwindles.
  • Maturation time – The length of time it takes to produce mature, stable & edible caviar is another crucial factor. As time is money, species whose caviar takes more time to mature will be more expensive and vice versa.
  • Process of harvesting and manufacturing – Factors such as salting, packing, storing, aging, etc. all factor into the cost equation. Technologically new forms of harvesting are more efficient and less expensive than less efficient traditional processes.
  • Quality of the caviar – The price also fluctuates basis the raw quality of the caviar. Sellers use multiple quality grading systems to rate egg color, uniformity, maturity, firmness, size, etc.
  • Supply & demand – If the supply is high and demand is low, the price will be low and vice versa. Caviar is usually marketed towards the elite class but is rapidly gaining popularity in the general consumer category as well.

A simple equation to arrive at a caviar’s price is as follows:

[Price of the caviar] = [Process Used] + [Rarity of the caviar]

It is important to note that non-sturgeon caviar varieties will naturally command a lower price than sturgeon caviar. Non-sturgeon varieties include – salmon, trout, Bowfin, Paddlefish, etc.

On the other hand, sturgeon varieties include – Sevruga, Siberian, Osetra, Kaluga, Beluga, etc. Fortunately, with more federal restrictions on the wild sturgeon species and better farming methods – the average price of caviar has come down significantly over the last few years.

Is it illegal to buy caviar?

caviar Fishes

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Beluga sturgeon caviar has been illegal in the US since 2005 as these are endangered species and environmental conservation is the need of the hour. However, it is not illegal if you can prove that you have it from a sustainable supplier.

Unfortunately, due to rampant over-fishing & poaching, the Beluga sturgeon is extremely scarce and the two nations bordering the Caspian Sea (Russia & China) have put some serious harvesting restrictions.

As a result, a black market has formed and the market of beluga sturgeon keeps shrinking, and the average price keeps rising.

Beluga caviar for sale 

There are several physical and online stores where you can get caviar for sale. Some of the popular online platforms to get caviar at a discount are as follows:

Why is black caviar illegal?

Black caviar or beluga sturgeon caviar is illegal in the United States since 2005, as the animal is endangered. However, caviar from hybrid fishes is on sale in the country.

Even though the ban has been lifted for some sources of Beluga caviar, the ban still holds in the US for black caviar.

Beluga caviar comes from what fish?

Beluga caviar comes from the beluga sturgeon, a large prehistoric fish that is native to the Caspian Sea. The fish is over 15 feet in length and can weigh over 3000 pounds.

The species produces the most expensive variety of caviar in the world. The Beluga sturgeon is also known as Huso-Huso and is a critically endangered species.

Is Russian caviar illegal in the US?

With the Beluga sturgeon population falling by 30% in the early-2000s – the ban was imposed in 2005 by the US. However, there is a sustainable farm in Florida, the US where you can get these for $11,488 per pound.

Osetra caviar 

Osetra caviar

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The Osetra caviar is one of the premium alternatives to the Beluga caviar and is a little bit smaller than the other varieties. It has a light gray color, is highly aromatic, and with a golden shine on its surface.

The consistency of this variety is more firm than other caviar varieties and tastes similar to a walnut. A lot of people prefer it over the much coveted Beluga caviar because of its earthy aroma.

The size of this fish species is moderate as they don’t go beyond two meters in length and weigh between 40 kg to 100 kg. It is the most sought-after variety in Russia.

Depending on the variety of Osetra caviar, the price can vary widely. Some of the common varieties are – Classic Russian Osetra, Classic Siberian Osetra, Crown Russian Osetra, Imperial Russian Osetra, Royal Amur Osetra, etc.

Is beluga illegal in the US?

Importing beluga caviar is still against the law in the US. However, sourcing it from a sustainable farm locally is legal.

Marky’s Caviar is the company that first made it possible to have guilt-free beluga caviar after the 15-year ban.

Caviar ban 

Before 2005, the US imported over 80% of the total caviar supply. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, strict restrictions were placed on Beluga caviar leading to over-fishing, poaching, and black markets.

Eventually, the total Beluga population fell by 45% and the US banned the import of this rare delicacy in 2005 as the species became endangered.

Where does beluga caviar come from?

The Beluga caviar originates from the Caspian Sea, which is at the border of many countries like – Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, etc. This caviar variety can also be found near the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea.

How is beluga caviar harvested?

At first, the beluga fish is stunned, then the removal of the two ovaries takes place by the process of ‘stripping’. In this process, the egg roe (caviar) is extracted from a minute incision in the fish’s membrane.

Alternatively, the caviar can also be taken by performing a C-section, enabling the female beluga to produce more eggs again.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What caviar is banned in the US?

In 2005, the US government made headlines by banning the import of True beluga caviar that comes from Beluga sturgeon.

Can you get caviar without killing the fish?

Yes, it is possible to get the caviar and leave the fish intact.

Is eating sturgeon illegal?

No, eating a sturgeon is not illegal if bought from a legit fish farm. However, you cannot catch one and eat it as they are under federal protection in many areas.

What is the best legal caviar?

A great alternative to true beluga caviar is the hybrid Beluga caviar, as it is an environment-friendly choice.

Key Takeaways

  • The true beluga caviar is the rarest and most expensive variety in the world.
  • There are many alternative caviar varieties including sturgeon and non-sturgeon caviar options.
  • In 2005, the import of true beluga caviar was outlawed in the US.
  • Buying sturgeon caviar is not illegal if sourced from a sustainable farm.
  • It is possible to extract the caviar from the sturgeon, without killing it.

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