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Caspian Sea states to resume
Geneva, 6 March 2002 - The five Caspian Sea states have launched
a coordinated programme for surveying and managing sturgeon stocks
that meets the agreed requirements for proceeding with the 2002
caviar harvest, the Secretariat of the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) announced
"For the first time, the Caspian Sea's wild sturgeon populations
are being managed through a unified system rather than through competing
national systems. This has enabled the region's governments to demonstrate
that sturgeon numbers are indeed stable or, in some cases, increasing,"
said Willem Wijnstekers, the CITES Secretary-General.
"The resumption in caviar sales will bring in much-needed
funding so that the hatcheries that are so vital to the sturgeons'
long-term survival can be expanded. But this does not mean that
the crisis is over. In particular, greater efforts are needed to
combat illegal fishing and corruption," he said.
CITES halted the caviar trade by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan
and Russia in June 2001 under the so-called Paris Agreement. It
gave the four states until the end of the year to conduct a scientific
survey of stocks and develop a common management plan.
They now have until 20 June 2002 to establish a long-term survey
programme and to increase significantly their efforts to combat
illegal harvesting and trade and to regulate domestic trade. While
the fifth Caspian state, Iran, was not subject to the caviar ban,
it too has joined the regional effort.
The CITES Secretariat has accepted the five states' proposal for
a 2002 Caspian-wide quota of some 142 tons (142,237 kilograms) of
caviar from five sturgeon species. This is 9.6% below the 2001 quota
levels. The decision is based on information recently submitted
by the Caspian states and by the Secretariat's frequent missions
to the region to assess compliance and verify survey results.
The approved 2002 export quotas for caviar are 7,770 kg for Azerbaijan,
75,767 kg for Iran, 23,500 kg for Kazakhstan, 29,400 kg for Russia,
and 5,800 kg for Turkmenistan. In addition, Russia and Kazakhstan
are allowed to sell registered stocks left over from the spring
2001 harvest. (For details, see
the tables posted at www.cites.org.)
"In a region where fish stocks were once a carefully guarded
state secret, and where there is still no comprehensive political
agreement over how to share the Caspian Sea and its resources, this
breakthrough on sturgeon management marks a dramatic step forward
towards transparency and cooperation," said CITES Deputy-Secretary-General
"A good example of this new cooperation is the adoption by
the Caspian states of a self-imposed moratorium on caviar exports
from the species known as ship sturgeon for 2002," he said.
Because many of the natural spawning grounds have been destroyed,
some 50% of Caspian Sea sturgeon start their lives in artificial
hatcheries. Following the Paris Agreement, the Caspian states have
invested heavily in expanding and refurbishing these hatcheries.
They are also changing their methods to improve the survival rate
of fingerlings, for example by releasing them only after they are
50 or 100 grams in weight versus the previous standard of 3 grams.
Meanwhile, CITES has suspended all wildlife trade with the United
Arab Emirates, largely because of its role as a major transhipment
point for illegal caviar. A Secretariat survey estimated that over
Sfr35 million (about US$21 million) of illegal caviar transited
the UAE during the first ten months of 2001.
Until 1991, two countries - the USSR and Iran - virtually controlled
the caviar market, investing heavily in maintaining fish stocks.
This made it easy to track the source of any given shipment of caviar.
With the demise of the USSR, the system collapsed, and many entrepreneurs
dealing in "black gold" sprang up to the replace the state-owned
The Caspian once accounted for 95% of world caviar, although this
percentage has become closer to 90%. Official catch levels fell
from a peak of about 30,000 tonnes in the late 1970s to less than
one tenth that figure in the late 1990s. Reduced river flow, destroyed
spawning sites, corruption, poaching, organized crime and illicit
trade all contributed to the decline.
One result is that before the Paris Agreement the illegal catch
in the four former Soviet Republics was estimated to be 10 or 12
times higher than the legal take. The legal caviar trade has been
estimated to be worth some $100 million annually - making it perhaps
the world's most valuable wildlife resource. Because retail prices
of illegal caviar vary widely from country to country, it is difficult
to estimate the value of illegal trade. Average wholesale market
prices are about $150 per kilo for illegal caviar, $500 for legal
caviar, and $1,000 for legal beluga.
Recognizing the need for action, in 1997 CITES decided to place
all remaining, unlisted species of sturgeon on its Appendix II,
effective from 1 April 1998. As a result, all exports of caviar
and other sturgeon products must comply with strict CITES provisions,
including the use of permits and specific labelling requirements.
To obtain the necessary permits for export, it must be shown that
trade is not detrimental to the long-term survival of the species.
In April 2000, the COP strengthened the controls on sturgeon by
adopting a universal labelling system for caviar exports. It further
required all range States to coordinate their annual export and
catch quotas for 2001. In June 2001, the CITES Standing Committee
decided that this had not been achieved and issued a zero quota
for Caspian Sea sturgeon and caviar for four countries for the remainder
of the year (Iran faced no restrictions because it had a functioning
sturgeon management system).
The Secretariat will report to next week's meeting
of the Standing Committee on its survey of enforcement needs
in the region. It will issue a strong recommendation for improved
regulation of the domestic caviar markets, particularly in Russia.
The Standing Committee meets in Geneva from 12 - 15 March to prepare
for the 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES,
to be held in Santiago, Chile from 3 -15 November. It will also
review implementation issues, regional reports, enforcement issues,
status reports for highly endangered species (bears, the tiger,
Tibetan antelope, and musk deer), and other matters.
Note to journalists: For more information, contact Michael Williams
at +41-79-409-1528 (cell), +41-22-917-8242 (office), or firstname.lastname@example.org.
See also www.cites.org.