In an attempt to save the endangered Beluga sturgeon, the USA is to impose a ban on Beluga caviar imports.
According to a report from The Telegraph, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is to impose a ban on imports of Beluga caviar after a number of countries failed to development management plans to help conserve the species.
The Beluga sturgeon, Huso huso, is an anadromous species that spends part of its life in freshwater and some of its time in estuarine waters and at sea. At over 5m/16' it is also Europe's largest fish occurring in freshwater, and it can produce as many as 360,000 eggs in a single spawning.
However, it has a very low resilience to fishing pressures, because it takes a long time to reach sexual maturity and has been subject to heavy fishing for many years.
The species is now listed on the current IUCN Redlist for fishes as endangered, and it has already been classified as extinct in some parts of its range, such as the Adriatic Sea. It is also a protected species, being listed in Appendix III of the Bern Convention, CMS Appendix II and CITES Appendix II since 1998.
The moves to ban the import of Beluga caviar into the USA have come following campaigning from a pressure group who believe that urgent action is required to protect the species from extinction.
The environmental group Caviar Emptor, whose motto is "Let the connoisseur beware", succeeded last year in getting US authorities to place the Beluga sturgeon on its endangered species lists.
The group says that in some places, such as the Volga River, 90% of the Beluga sturgeon's spawning grounds have been lost and that there has been a tenfold drop in abundance in some places.
Caviar Emptor says that research has shown that illegal fishing for Huso huso is the main factor in the decline of the species.
According to The Telegraph, this resulted in the Caspian states of Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan being given six months to present the US with a management plan which showed that they were taking steps to protect the endangered fish they were trading in.
US Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Ken Burton told The Telegraph that nothing had been presented by the September 6 deadline, so trade in Beluga caviar would be suspended within the next few days. Caviar from other species would, however, remain on the market. Caviar already on the shelves can still be sold, but further imports are going to be banned.
However, The Telegraph reports that some European environmental groups actually regard the ban as bad news for the future of the species.
Steve Broad, the director of wildlife trade investigation body Traffic International told the paper that if trade is stopped there will be little incentive for countries to replenish stocks through captive breeding. "If you cut off international trade, the caviar that is produced will be taken up by the Russian market. If Russians can buy Beluga for a lower price, they're laughing."
Defra representatives also said that they thought the moves to ban the sale of Beluga were premature.