Last year, the U.N. banned five countries (including Russia and Iran) from internationally trading beluga caviar because they failed to agree on quotas. There was talk of a ten-year moratorium, but now the countries have agreed on strict quotas for the 2010 fishing season and will be allowed to export once again. So does this affect whether youll be able to once again score beluga locally? It doesnt seem so. Michel Emery, director of sales for Petrossian U.S., tells Grub Street that although his Paris office may be able to start carrying beluga again (it remains to be seen whether itll be worthwhile, depending on the pricing and quality of whats available), the United States Fish and Wildlife Services 2005 ban on beluga remains in full effect. Besides which, he says that for the last couple of years a lot of our clients are used to buying caviar from farm-raised sturgeons. It remains to be seen whether our clients are interested in going back to wild species or not.
Niki Russ Federman at Russ & Daughters says she wont be getting into the beluga game, whether or not the U.S. ban is lifted (and theres no reason to believe it will be it wasnt lifted the last time the Caspian countries agreed on quotas, in 2008). She says, Its still an extremely threatened species, so if I had a choice Id rather go with delicious caviar thats sustainable. For instance, American osetra, which Russ gets from whichever purveyor has the best product at a given time (it currently goes for $95 for 50 grams, or about one to three servings). The sustainably produced caviar industry has really matured over the past fifteen years. What weve tasted from beluga wild Caspian-sea caviar really hasnt been up to our standards. She continues, There are plenty of people who will throw $8,000 on a half-kilo because they can, but thats not a reason for us to have it.
An employee at Caviar Russe wasted no time dashing our hopes: Theres no beluga in the United States nor will there be for a very, very long time.