For many centuries, caviar has come to symbolize both affluence and sophistication of the western world. In recent years, however, the market for this status symbol of culinary extravagance has fallen into crisis. Severe depletion of all major sturgeon stocks of the Ponto-Caspian Regions has led to the indefinite closure of the entire Russian caviar industry. Despite this emergency action, poaching has continued at an unprecedented level and most populations continue to decline. Today, both biologists and market experts agree that the combined effects of overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction have essentially ended all commercial caviar production from this region.
The worldwide collapse of sturgeon populations has left many countries scrambling to exploit the enormous void in the market supply of caviar through intensive aquaculture. While the infrastructure for sturgeon farming already existed in many western countries, the combined output of the aquaculture industry has comprised only a small fraction of total world production over the past decade. In the United States demand far exceeds annual production, which is based entirely on imports and a single large-scale aquaculture facility based in California. Although Europe currently leads the world in farmed caviar production, the relative scarcity of untapped water and land resources available for aquaculture firms have limited industry growth.
The goal of this project is to evaluate the feasibility of rearing Russian sturgeon in the Southeastern US for the commercial production of both meat and caviar. The project is being conducted at the UGA Cohutta Fisheries Research Center as an effort to spearhead a potential new aquaculture industry in Georgia. At present, the facility has 4 separate cohorts of Siberian sturgeon, Acipenser baerii, with additional cohorts planned for 2006-2008. The oldest cohort is expected to begin producing caviar within the next 1-2 years, at which time meat and caviar will be test marketed to evaluate consumer demand for these farm raised products.
To learn more about Dr. Douglas Peterson and his work, visit his web page.