The Environmental Crime Crisis

According to the Caspian Research Institute of Fisheries the population of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea in 2004 included: 5 million beluga, 7 million stellate sturgeon, and 36 million sturgeon. However, this data was questioned by CITES, that considers it inflated. Sturgeon stocks in the Far East are considerably smaller. 43 It is estimated by the office of the Prosecutor General of Kazakhstan, that during the decade from 2002 to 2012 the sturgeon population in the Ural-Caspian region declined by 98 % (from 61 million to 1.3 million). For the last two years alone it has dropped by two million (from 3,3 million in 2010 to 1,3 million in 2012). 44 According to official statistics, Russia produced around 16 tons of caviar in 2012. This is down by 2 tons (11%) from 2011, and down by 8 tons since 2001 (24 tons). In 2002, Russia banned the sale of sturgeon caviar harvested in the Caspian Sea and Volga due to increased poaching and a drastically declining population of the fish. In 2007, when sturgeon was facing extinction in its native habitat, Russia completely banned wild sturgeon harvesting under the pressure of different interna- tional organizations. The ban has been joined by all Caspian littoral states in 2014. From the largest exporter (41 tons in 2001) Russia became an importer of caviar. In 2012 it imported

8,8 tons and exported only 6,2 tons. Today 100% of legally produced sturgeon caviar is harvested in aqua farms. However, according to experts, despite the ban the volume of illegal stur- geon caviar exceeds its legal production 10 times. Estimates show that between 90% and 98% of sturgeon caviar sold on the Russian market comes from poachers. 45 Other experts consider the domestic market even bigger, up to 100–150 tons. Contraband imports come mostly from Armenia. 46 The low standard of living in some coastal regions of Russia makes the financial rewards from organized crime attractive. The organization of law enforcement, with extremely low staffing, low level of fisheries inspections, and low wages are other contributing factors. In 2013 347 crimes related to sturgeon poaching were regis- tered in Kazakhstan over a period of 10 months, showing 40% increase compared to 2012. During 2012–13 only 466 of the 991 criminal cases related to sturgeon poaching have been brought to court. The main measures for conservation of sturgeon in the Northern Caspian are reduction of illegal fishing, introduc- tion of universal labelling system for sturgeon products and reclaiming the water bodies through enforcement.


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