Sunday, March 16, 2014

SENA14: Sustainable Caviar In Florida

"Always do the things you fear the most. Courage is an acquired taste, like caviar."
--Erica Jong

There are about 25 different species of Sturgeon, and the roe of several species is harvested as caviar. They are not the prettiest of fish, but their roe are delicious and highly prized. Caviar has long been considered a luxury, though it is said that in the early 19th century in the U.S., caviar was served as part of a free lunch in saloons, with the hope the saltiness would get people to drink more. Its popularity though eventually led to a great decline in sturgeon populations so that the the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, notes that wild caviar, whether domestic or imported, is to be Avoided. Farmed caviar though, such as Sturgeon in the U.S. is a Good Alternative and White Sturgeon in British Colombia is a Best Choice.

Around 2000, a number of conservation groups united together to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list beluga sturgeon as an endangered species. Four years later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a special rule to ban the “import, export, re-export, or interstate or foreign commerce involving any beluga sturgeon products that originate from aquaculture operations outside the range countries” without the necessary permit. That proposal would also have banned beluga aquaculture in the U.S. However, representatives of the Florida Sturgeon Production Working Group sought to change that potential ban and they were successful in their efforts.

At the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), I stopped at the Marky’s Group, Inc. booth, which was showcasing their Florida farmed raised caviar. The Marky's Group was founded in 1983 by Mark Zaslavsky and Mark Gelman, immigrants from Ukraine. It began as a small retail store and has blossomed into a mini-empire, with locations in Miami, Panama and Europe, selling over 8,000 gourmet foods.

They eventually founded Sturgeon AquaFarms in 2001, wanting to raise Beluga and Sevruga sturgeon in Florida. for the world market. Though they now sell 15-20 different caviars, they sell several kinds from their own aquaculture operations, which are generally priced from $20 to $80 an ounce. Currently, they grow Beluga, Sevruga, Sterlet and Russian Osetra, all of which is sustainably raised. They are also the only producer of domestic Caspian Sevruga and Caspian Beluga Caviar. For their sturgeon, they only use organic feed, free of hormones and antibiotics. Besides selling caviar, they are committed to the conservation and preservation of sturgeon species.

Their best season for sales of their caviar is obviously November and December, definitely due to the holidays when people are more ready to splurge. And when I asked the best way to enjoy their caviar, I was told that the most romantic way was to spread some on a blini with a litte creme fraiche, and accompany it with Champagne or vodka. And of course, you need to share all that with someone you love.

With around 18 exhibitors carrying caviar at the Expo, it remains a desirable luxury product. And you might not have realized that it is healthy as well. Caviar is full of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids as well as acetylcholine, which is good for your memory. It is also abundant in Vitamin A, Vitamin D and potassium, which is good for your blood pressure. Who would have thought such a decadent treat could also be good for you?

Could caviar become even more sustainable? That might be a possibility in the future with news of a new technique to extract roe from a sturgeon without killing it. In an intriguing article in Civil Eats, it describes the work of Angela Köhler, marine biologist and eco-toxicologist, who developed and patented a technique to stabilize mature roe and keep the sturgeon alive. This is primarily small scale, and costly, but it bodes well for the future of the caviar industry, offering a potential path to greater sustainability as well as make sturgeon productive for many more years.  

Ah, the wonders of caviar.

"I'd do anything for caviar and probably did."
--Henry Kissinger

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