By Ann Marie O'Phelan
Located on 120 acres in the tiny town of Bascom, there are 100 tanks that hold an impressive sturgeon population of approximately 100,000.
The tanks are full of the critically-endangered Beluga, Sevruga, Sterlet and to a lesser extent Russian Osetra sturgeon. Sturgeon AquaFarms is actually the largest Beluga aqua farm in the world and has more Beluga sturgeon than the Caspian Sea.
Sturgeon is currently one of the most threatened groups of animals on the planet. Moreover, the Beluga sturgeon is now listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Critically Endangered. Due to this listing, the UN closed exports from the Caspian Sea. In 2005, the United States prohibited imports of Beluga products.
The demand for the black caviar, which is derived from the sturgeon's unfertilized eggs, is considered the finest in the world. Like with most finer things in life, that classification comes with a hefty price tag. In fact, the caviar retails in Europe for $10,000-15,000 per kilogram. Consequently, this desirable and expensive product led to overfishing and to the sturgeon's demise.
While Sturgeon AquaFarms harvests the caviar from their sturgeon (currently as a limited edition), their goal is twofold: preservation and protection of the sturgeon species, along with sustainable caviar farming.
The story of Sturgeon AquaFarms began in 2001, when Mark Zaslavsky, the CEO of Marky's Caviar (founded in 1983), began importing live juvenile sturgeon from Europe with the intent to recreate a top-notch facility of his own in Florida, stocking it with Beluga and Sevruga sturgeon for the world market. "He felt compelled to find a better, more efficient and less damaging way to breed his own sturgeon in the United States, unlike anyone had before," said Christopher Hlubb, president of Markys Group, Inc. and COO of Sturgeon AquaFarms.
In 2005, when the Beluga sturgeon was declared illegal for import into the United States and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the United Nations (UN) declared a ban on its fishing internationally, Sturgeon AquaFarms added preservation and protection to their company's mission. More....