U.S. takes first step toward protecting endangered beluga sturgeon

(July 31, 2002) Conservation organizations today applauded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's proposal to list beluga sturgeon the source of coveted beluga caviar as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. If beluga sturgeon is listed as endangered, all importation of beluga caviar into the U.S. would be prohibited. The United States is the world's largest beluga caviar importer.

The Service issued its proposal on July 31, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to compel the Service to act on a petition to protect beluga sturgeon filed in 2000. The petition was put forth by Caviar Emptor, a coalition of NRDC, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and SeaWeb.

"Beluga sturgeon are on the brink of extinction, largely due to the demand for beluga caviar," said Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst for the NRDC. "We are literally killing the goose that lays the golden eggs," she said. "The United States imports 80% of the world's beluga caviar. As a result, a ban on beluga caviar imports into the United States would reduce pressure on the fish and improve its prospects for survival."

In a press release issued by FWS today, it said that "the Service found there was sufficient information to make a finding that the action may be warranted." The Service also stated in the announcement that "loss of habitat, pollution, over-harvest and illegal trade are the major threats to survival of the species in the wild." The Service has opened a 90-day period for the public to provide comments on its proposed listing of beluga sturgeon as an endangered species.

Sturgeon of the Caspian Sea the cradle of world caviar production are in crisis. The global caviar market has placed a premium on sturgeon, prompting overfishing and illegal trade. Experts say the worldwide caviar market is estimated at $100 million, but the illegal traffic of caviar from the Caspian Sea is about 10 time

Contact: Sunny Wu

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