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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fishing Banned as Caviar Crop Sinks

Sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea is to be banned in 1997 to protect dwindling stocks of the fish that provide caviar, under an agreement signed by the five countries bordering the area.

Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran signed an agreement Thursday in southern Russia to ban all sturgeon fishing next year in the Caspian, said Vyacheslav Zikalov, vice president of the Russian committee on fishing.

Under the agreement, sturgeon fishing will only be allowed in the deeper waters of the Volga and Ural rivers, which flow into the Caspian Sea in Russia and Kazakhstan.

If effective, the result of the ban would be to reduce caviar supplies dramatically and force prices up.

Each country's law enforcement officials will be responsible for enforcing the ban and patrolling the sea in an effort to halt poaching, which has increased in recent years. dramatic drop in other areas of the world.

The World Wildlife Fund said in a report this week that 90 percent of caviar is obtained by illegal trade and the number of sturgeon is plummeting.

"With significant illegal trade, little regulation, tremendous profits and increasing demand, sturgeon species are perched precariously on the edge of extinction," said Andrea Gaski, research director of the fund's trade monitoring program.

"The supply of superior caviar is so low traders are now mislabeling lower quality eggs and charging superior prices," she said.

While there are more than 20 species of sturgeon -- a fish that evolved before the dinosaur -- the vast majority of caviar comes from three species: the Beluga, the Stellatus and the Russian.

Almost all the world's caviar comes from the Caspian Sea where the population of adult sturgeon fell to 43.5 million in 1994 from 142 million in 1978, mostly due to overfishing, the report said.

Russia and Iran are the main suppliers, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union has led to a surge in the illegal caviar trade, it said. The city of Astrakhan in Russia and Azerbaijan are likely the two major suppliers of illegal caviar and much of the caviar exported from Russia may have been falsely labeled.

Voracious poaching in which males and juveniles are killed along with egg-carrying females, plus the renewed use of trawlers in the Caspian Sea, is hastening the species depletion, the report said.

The fund had called for members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to list various types of sturgeon for trade bans or quotas. It also urged major importers -- mainly Europe and the United States -- to introduce controls on trade.

Until 1991, sturgeon fishing and caviar production were strictly controlled by Iran and the former Soviet Union.

The three new countries that formed on the Caspian coast as a result of the break-up of the Soviet Union began harvesting sturgeon without regard to usual precautions, notably using closely woven nets. Those countries have yet to agree on a new statute to share out the resources of the Caspian.

Thursday's accord was signed by fishing authorities who decided "not to wait until the politicians had decided about the statute for the Caspian, and to resolve certain problems ourselves," Zikalov said.