Russian caviar risks extinction

MOSCOW, May 9, 2006 (AFP) – It can be a delicacy or status symbol, a cure-all, or even an aphrodisiac, but ecologists are warning that Russian caviar could disappear altogether as the Caspian Sea’s sturgeon population reaches dangerously low levels. The WWF conservation group has for the past few months waged a campaign to persuade Russians to give up their caviar habit for six years to allow sturgeon numbers time to recover.

“You wouldn’t want your children to forget forever the taste of caviar would you? Then stop buying it for six years,” is the message from the WWF, which says the sturgeon population of the Caspian Sea has dropped to just one fortieth of what it was 15 years ago.

Caviar, as much a symbol of Russia as “the balalaika, Russian dolls, vodka and the Kalashnikov”, now risks extinction, the WWF warns.

Sturgeon numbers went into decline in the 1960s, when the Soviet Union embarked on a programme of dam-building, preventing the fish from reaching their breeding grounds and leading to a 25 percent drop in stocks.

Then in 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing economic crisis led to a sharp increase in poaching in the Volga Delta, an activity the authorities largely turned a blind eye to.

The poachers, who