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Q I see that importing beluga caviar has been banned. Should I just give up caviar?

A You certainly don't have to. You're right that beluga caviar is off-limits. Many populations of wild sturgeon are nearly extinct, and the Caspian Sea's beluga sturgeon have declined by 90 percent over the past two decades. Beluga females can't reproduce until they're about 15 years old, so it will take many years for the species to recover. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned beluga caviar imports last fall; four months later, the United Nations announced an international ban. Both actions came in response to litigation and intense pressure from NRDC, the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, and the conservation group SeaWeb. The demand for caviar, however, isn't going to go away. American gourmets consume 60 percent of the world beluga caviar supply. To meet this appetite, many upscale restaurants have begun to offer delectable alternatives from domestic fish farms. Foodie magazines including Gourmet, Bon Appetit, and Food & Wine have given American-raised caviar rave reviews, highlighting the roe of white sturgeon as well as that of the closely related paddlefish. Salmon, whitefish, trout, and hackleback roe also pleased the palates of top critics. For a buying guide, visit

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Illustration: Mark Matcho

OnEarth. Spring 2006
Copyright 2006 by the Natural Resources Defense Council