It might be news to you, but wild sturgeon – the kind of fish we typically depend on to produce roe, ergo caviar – are one of the most endangered species on the planet. The International Union for Conservation of Nature says over eighty-five percent of sturgeon species are at risk of extinction. Sixteen variations of the fish, such as the well-recognised beluga, have reached critically low numbers. To give you some context, that’s a status shared with the likes of the south China tiger and black rhino.
It’s no coincidence that, as the demand for caviar increases, so does the number of environmentally-sound caviar farms. The low numbers of sturgeon account for why caviar is synonymous with extravagance – the fewer there are to produce roe, the more difficult it is to obtain.
Today some sturgeon are still unfortunately poached in the wild, but ever since the first caviar farms sprung up in the early 1990s there has been an alternative source. Today, all farms in Europe work to rigorous standards set out by the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), and there has been a worldwide ban on fishing sturgeon since 1998, to allow those in the wild to repopulate. If you were to buy a tin of caviar today – especially one produced in Britain or Europe – it would come from a sustainable caviar farm instead of a wild, endangered fish.
Killing the fish has traditionally been the means to harvest its roe, even though this isn’t strictly necessary – sturgeon, like any fish, release their eggs naturally. So you can see why a family-run farm in north Yorkshire, KC Caviar, is challenging the status quo. Having recently been granted a ‘no-kill’ license by the Alfred Wegener Institute – the first of its kind in the world – the farm is in the business of producing caviar without having to kill the fish beforehand.