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not an official document.
Time runs out for illegal caviar trade
Bangkok, 13 October 2004 - Delegates at the 13th meeting
of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP13)
have agreed policies that should greatly reduce the opportunities
for unscrupulous traders to smuggle caviar obtained from poached
sturgeons into the international markets.
In a move that has been welcomed by bona fide traders and sturgeon
range States, delegates overwhelmingly voted to place time limits
on the international trade in caviar.
Until now, traders in illegal caviar were able, through fraud
and forgery, to declare that their product was caught during previous
years and avoid the annual quota limits set by CITES. They exploited
a loophole that allowed sturgeon range States to carry over remaining
stocks from the year of harvest and used this to convince the authorities
that they had not already exported all their products. These declarations
having been accepted, traders then process fresh caviar obtained
from sturgeons that have been caught by poachers and 'launder' it
into international markets where it fetches high prices.
CoP13 delegates decided that the caviar processed in 2004 must
be exported by 31 March 2005. From 2006 onwards, all caviar must
be exported in the same year that it is produced; there will be
no opportunity to 'carry over' stocks from one year to the next.
In addition, there can be no re-exports of caviar more than 18 months
in age; another loophole that illicit traders have used.
In a meeting on the sidelines of the Conference, Caspian Sea countries
invited experts from the CITES Secretariat to join a working group
of the Commission for Aquatic Bioresources of the Caspian that will
draft a regional action plan to combat poachers and illegal traders.
"This is a major victory in the war against the caviar criminals,"
said CITES Deputy Secretary-General Dr Jim Armstrong. "Abuse
of the quota system has been a very significant problem recently,
particularly when we have been unable to publish annual quotas until
late into the year of harvest. For example, the figures for 2004
have only just been agreed but we know that fresh caviar is available
in the markets of Europe, which is being sold under the guise that
it was harvested in 2001, 2002 or 2003. Alongside the time limits
that have been set, CITES has also agreed that annual quotas must
be published by 31 December in the preceding year. This will bring
stability to the caviar trade and close the door on the criminal
opportunists who have engaged in large-scale fraud."
The trade in sturgeon products, especially caviar, has a long history
of criminal involvement and there are close links with organized
crime groups. Fishery protection officers in the Caspian Sea regularly
face violence from poachers and CITES officials have met staff who
have had hand grenades thrown into their patrol vessels by poachers
wishing to avoid arrest.
Note to journalists: For more information please call the
CITES press office in Bangkok at +66 4 098 7621 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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