Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Albany Beef: A More Responsible Way to Consume Caviar?

Given that caviar consumption is inherently wasteful from a natural resource utilization viewpoint, does consuming the whole fish that the caviar is taken from more resource friendly?

By: Ringo Bones

Caviar connoisseurs had it lucky compared to shark-fin soup eaters because most sturgeon varieties have a fecundity edge over sharks. But still, given that roe extraction for caviar processing results in the death sentence of the whole sturgeon is it less wasteful if the whole sturgeon is sold along with the caviar? After all, it was proposed back in the 1980s that whole sharks should be sold along with the extracted fins – though fishmongers later learned that sharks reproduce slowly and most of them eventually bowed down to the demands of environmental pressure groups to halt the trade of shark fins. At least a majority of them anyway.

Back to caviar consumption, the female sturgeons are seldom – if at all – consumed after the roe is taken for processing into caviar. It does therefore make better sense that the whole fish should be consumed and marketed. Back in the 19th Century, it was routine practice in the US to sell the sturgeon after the roe is taken. Fishmongers even marketed the product as “Albany Beef”.

Acipenser sturio – or the common sturgeon – was once very plentiful in the Hudson River before overfishing and pollution reduced its numbers. It has been raised successfully in other parts of the United States as a source of domestically grown caviar. The common sturgeon once got the moniker of Albany Beef due to its red flesh that was once considered a delicacy in fine restaurants of New York until the Hudson River’s population of common sturgeon fell below commercially viable numbers. Since it has been grown in other parts of the US in commercially viable numbers, maybe it is time to reintroduce Albany Beef as a delicacy to New York’s fine diners.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Iranian Beluga Caviar: Too Tasty To Be Banned?

Given that the UN Security Council has newly voted punitive sanctions against Iran for their “questionable” nuclear weapons program, will Iran’s caviar exports be banned again this time?

By: Ringo Bones

It was made official back in June 9, 2010 that another round of punitive sanctions aimed against Iran over their “questionable” nuclear weapons program. With the UN Security Council voted twelve to two with one abstention in favor of renewed sanctions that are primarily aimed at arms purchases and the freezing of offshore bank assets of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – rumored to make up a quarter of Iran’s GNP. Given the latest punitive sanctions, what does this mean to Iran’s beluga caviar exports?

There might be some truth to those free-floating rumors that Iranian beluga caviar exports – especially when destined to the United States - is just “too tasty” for a ban to be successfully enforced. Not surprisingly, during the mid 1960s at the height of the Cold War, Volga River Delta-sourced Caspian Sea sturgeon beluga caviar – i.e. Soviet Union caviar – never got the same US government restrictions that got “supposedly” slapped on Cuban cigars. At that time, American gourmets gladly paid 9 US dollars a serving for Soviet beluga caviar.

Fast forward to the 1979 Islamic Revolution that got underway in Iran that resulted in the hostage taking of American citizens who staffed the US Embassy in Tehran had made drastic decline of Iranian exports of beluga caviar to the United States. While in 1987, then US president Ronald Reagan banned all Iranian exports to the US – including beluga caviar (albeit probably in name only) – in response to the “increasingly bellicose behavior” by Iran that included attacks on American forces and American-flagged Kuwaiti ships on the Persian Gulf. Not surprisingly the word bellicose is still inextricably connected to Iran given Tehran’s recent inability to fulfill their obligations as a signatory country of the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iranian caviar exports to the US may be in decline, but it is not a result of UN Security Council approved sanctions but due to the inevitable decline of the Caspian Sea beluga caviar after facing over-fishing and pollution challenges. Even though it probably now only forms a minor part of Iran’s overall export one does wonder if Iran’s beluga caviar exports falls under the purview of the Revolutionary Guard? Which is the main reason why America should develop its own homegrown sustainable caviar industry.