Half of Tested Caviar Products from Europe are Illegal, and Some aren't even Caviar
Published:17 Jan.2024    Source:Cell Press
Wild caviar, a pricey delicacy made from sturgeon eggs, has been illegal for decades since poaching brought the fish to the brink of extinction. Today, legal, internationally tradeable caviar can only come from farmed sturgeon, and there are strict regulations in place to help protect the species. However, by conducting genetic and isotope analyses on caviar samples from Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine -- nations bordering the remaining wild sturgeon populations -- a team of sturgeon experts found evidence that these regulations are actively being broken. Their results, publishing on November 20 in the journal Current Biology, show that half of the commercial caviar products they sampled are illegal, and some don't even contain any trace of sturgeon.
In Europe, there are four remaining sturgeon species, including Beluga, Russian, stellate, and sterlet, that are capable of producing caviar. The last remaining wild populations of these species in the European Union can be found in the Danube River and the Black Sea. Each species has been protected since 1998 under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In 2000, their CITES listing was accompanied by a strict, international labeling system for all caviar products designed to stop illegal trade. Despite these protections, it was widely known from local anecdotal accounts that illegal poaching is still happening, cites the team, even though no formal investigations had been conducted.

After analyzing each sample's DNA and isotope patterns, the team found that 21% of the samples came from wild-caught sturgeons and that these wild-caught fish were sold in all of the countries studied. They also found that 29% of the samples violated CITES regulations and trade laws, which included caviar that listed the wrong species of sturgeon or the wrong country of origin, and categorized another 32% of samples as "customer deception," such as samples declared as wild products that actually originated from aquaculture.