China Caviar

History of the Sturgeon in China (to 1990s)

By: Austin Pejman Chehrazi and Wael Abu Zaid

China is not such a newcomer to Caviar as some might think. Eight species of Sturgeon live in China’s habitat, mainly in the Yangtze River basin and related estuaries, Heilongjiang (Amur) river basin, and some waterways of Xinjiang. Siberia is home to its own species of Sturgeon where China borders Russia, sharing the Amur River, which is home to the Acipenser schrenckii and Huso dauricus. The first use of Sturgeons in China dates back to the Tang Dynasty (7th-10th Century C.E.) and fried Sturgeon has been a local cuisine since that time.

In recent history, China started artificial Sturgeon reproduction studies in 1957 and opened its first Sturgeon fishing stations with the help of Bechtel Corporation of America and Russian experts in the 1960s. A. schrenckii was the first successful species to have been bred in captivity, followed by A. sinensis and A. dabryanus between 1973 to 1976, all to restock wild reserves. China joined the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1981 and its efforts for Sturgeon conservation. Nationally, the 1988 Wild Animal Protection Law requires establishments involved in Sturgeon breeding, production, and sale of caviar, and any other Sturgeon products, to apply for the Aquatic Wild Animal Domesticated and Breeding Permit, as well as, the Aquatic Wild Animal Operation and Use Permit, issued by provincial wildlife administration authorities. Furthermore, all Sturgeon being raised on farms must be recorded and comply with the traceability system of food safety.

Commercial Sturgeon Production in China (1990s to Present)

China started its commercial Sturgeon production program in the late 1990s. However, it was the near extinction of its own Sturgeon stocks, due to pollution and dams, and the eventual bans and control over wild Sturgeon fishing worldwide, that led to the boom in Chinese aquaculture in this field earlier this century. Today, with the successful implementation of this aquaculture program, China has become the top producer of Caviar worldwide. What is more, China has managed to surprise the world not just with the quantity it can now produce, but its high quality and right flavour too.

For its Sturgeon aquaculture program, China has employed the best of its local species, Siberian Amur River’s A. schrenckii, but imported all the other ones that are currently in production at the country’s farms: A. baerii, A. gueldenstaedtii, H. huso and A. ruthenus, were imported from Russia, Germany, France and Italy. Some hybrid species, such as, A. schrenckii (♂) x H. dauricus (♀), A. baerii (♂) x A. schrenckii (♀), were crossbred and are farmed in China as we speak. Today, the main farmed species are hybrids (80 percent), and A. baerii (10 percent).

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It was not long though that like all things made in China, Sturgeon production soared: by 10 folds in the past 2 decades to near 100,000 tons, making China by extension the top producer of Caviar in the world. In this same period, Caviar production has rose from less than a ton to around 300 tons annually. China has the capacity to produce even more Caviar, but only 20% of the fish produced is for that purpose as the Chinese are one of the top consumers of Sturgeon meat themselves, and now Caviar too. Half of the Caviar produced is consumed domestically.

Chinese Caviar production has risen in quality and quantity to the point that it has flooded US and EU markets and forced prices to plummet by around 50% from 2012 to 2018, according to UNFAO. To protect US producers, a 10% levy on Chinese Caviar could soon turn to 15%-25%. China has managed to control over 60% of the market in less than 2 decades. Today, Chinese Caviar supplies a number of top airlines from the Persian Gulf to the English Channel, including Lufthansa, and controls 30% of the global market. China produces some of the highest quality and well-priced farmed Caviar in the world, which has forced North American producers to drop their prices by 25%-50% in just one decade. This combination of consistent high quality has also led to Chinese Caviar taking over 21 of the 26 3-starred Michelin restaurants in Paris.

China’s success has also gotten many unlikely Caviar specialists and traders to change their tune, advertise, and market it themselves. Likewise, a number of establishments around the world with over a century of history, ones that until recent years would only have considered Caspian Caviar as worthy of the name, have also changed their tune. Caviar is a nutritious food packed with minerals, antioxidants and essential oils. However, Caviar’s nutrition, just like its quality, has more to do with the quality of the food the Sturgeon eats, the water it swims in, and any physical and mental stress it might come under. Laboratory tests have demonstrated that Chinese Caviar is just as nutritious as any Sturgeon Caviar in the world. Three of the main Sturgeons farmed in China are the Siberian Sturgeon (Acipenser baerii), Amur Sturgeon (Acipenser Schrenckii) and Hybrid Sturgeon (Huso dauricus × A. schrenkii ).  Studies have indicated that the caviar from these 3 farmed species can be considered as good sources of essential amino acids, functional amino acids, DHA and EPA. Kaluga Queen Caviar is one such roe that is on par with Beluga Caviar of the Caspian, coming from the Huso dauricus, a close relative of Beluga’s Huso Huso. Imperial Caviar is the other, which is also a China region caviar, coming from the hybrid of Amur River Sturgeons, Huso dauricus × A. schrenkii .

All 3 of these Caviars types are offered by King Caviar for your enjoyment:

Beluga, Kaluga Queen, and Imperial.

China Sturgeon and Caviar Production Outlook

However, as it is said, all good things do come to an end (and other good things begin). The boom in Chinese production is projected to have leveled off and should even drop by almost a quarter or more, as stricter environmental protection laws have come into effect and the government is more stringently enforcing them. Furthermore, currently half of the Chinese production is used by a growing domestic market that could soon gulp up more of the market share and make less of this delectable delicacy available to the global markets. That would only lead to higher prices and less availability.

King Caviar sources a major quantity of its Caviar from China’s island regions. We do offer both Kaluga and Imperial Caviars for your enjoyment, and you can find the link to our product page below:

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