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.

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