Monday, November 9, 2020

Review of Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World's Most Coveted Delicacy by Inga Saffron

This review is written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = History

Elaborate Description

A wonderful example of an unsustainable income. The history and reasons behind what determines the fate of the fish that produces caviar is extraordinarily well written in this book. The sturgeon which produces most of the caviar is an ancient fish that survived two mass extinction events, has become endanger within roughly three centuries of human fishing. Saffron shows the story of the caviar and the sturgeon from the fish’s life cycle, historic and modern consumers, caviar corporations, poachers, and government.

When caviar became popular in other countries, the sturgeon in many lakes have been fished clean. The sturgeon was meant to feed local populations, not global. Caviar has been on a wild historic ride from peasants having a lot of caviar and feeding caviar to the pigs, to being a delicacy only afforded by the most powerful, to being mass produced for mass consumption in many countries. Although the beginnings of caviar are spotty at best, how many countries learned to make and eat caviar is detailed in the book.

Most sturgeon types spawn in fresh water lakes while live in the sea. The best caviar apparently comes from a mature female sturgeon, but now the sturgeon’s life ends in its juvenile stage. Naturally, they spawn very infrequently and even thought they produce many fish eggs, only a few of those eggs will make a sturgeon. Even fewer will survive to adulthood. The sturgeon can no longer sustain their population and satiate human desire as few sturgeons are able to spawn the next generation.

The few legal dealers of caviar take great pride in being able to sell legally and do their best to stay within the restriction, but poachers have no restrictions. Legal sellers and producers of caviar have a hard time competing with poachers due to the poacher’s lower price, even if the poachers’ quality is much lower. Legal producers of caviar stay within the limit of the amount of sturgeon catches, but the sturgeon population is in decline due to the amount of illegal sturgeon catches which far exceed the quotas and the ability of the sturgeon to reproduce.

A very lucrative caviar trade incentivized a mass number of poachers. The quotas placed on the sturgeon had increased the price further. Many poachers get away with wrong certificates or bribing officials to make genuine certificates. For others, farming sturgeon and harvesting the caviar is the only source of income. Communities which used to farm sturgeon for sustenance, see no other income source, forcing them to believe that the sturgeon declining population is more of a myth.

One of the few resources which communist Russia managed well was caviar. When the communist took over Russia, they noticed that the sturgeon population was in decline, and imposed a ban on open-sea fishing. As they were able to credibly threaten those who broke the ban, there were few poachers. Once the communist regime ended, the new government privatized the fishing industry, creating competition which caused over fishing of the sturgeon. Due to multiple nations having control of parts of the same location where the sturgeon is, a ban on sturgeon fishing is difficult. The international methods have not fared well, but there is some restrain on poachers. A way that poachers have been able to overcome quotas is discarding male sturgeon as they are not the producers of caviar, while not counting the discarded fish in the quota.

Even though the species is on the extinction list, there is hope for the sturgeon for the same reason which caused its rapid decline, caviar. As there is great profit in sturgeon’s caviar, there are ways to sustain the population via farming or using a hatchery. A hatchery helps sturgeon grow and sends them to the sea, while sturgeon being farmed at kept in pools. There are various types of sturgeon and which creates genetic variations which is kept in the hatchery process while only a few types of sturgeon are being farmed. Farming is profitable when there are huge restrictions on sturgeon fishing, while hatcheries rely on commercial fishing for revenue. Due to human desire to have caviar, the sturgeon may be kept from extinction via human intervention but that is not without its costs and risk.


Book Details

Edition ISBN:  0767906233
Pages to read:   254
Publication:     2002
1st Edition:      2002
Format:            Hardcover

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5