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Beluga Ban May Breed New Trade: Appalachian Caviar

Lori Valigra
for National Geographic News
January 24, 2006

The words "paddlefish caviar" may not roll off the tongue smoothly, but the eggs of the fish do.

Just ask Lewis Shuckman, who packages the roe of paddlefish as Shuckman's Spoonfish Caviar in Louisville, Kentucky.

"At Kentucky Derby time, it's bourbon and Kentucky Spoonfish Caviar," said Shuckman, who runs Shuckman's Fish Co. & Smokery Inc. "It tastes like sevruga caviar, but it's affordable."

At just U.S. $35 per 2-ounce (60-gram) tin, paddlefish caviar is a bargain compared to the more famous sturgeon roe—namely the beluga and sevruga varities—that come from the Caspian Sea.

Those kinds of caviar can cost five to ten times as much.

But it's not just price that has fueled the recent boom in U.S.-grown fish eggs.

American caviar has been growing in popularity since 2001, when word first circulated that stocks of beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea were on the decline.

Then in October 2004 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the beluga sturgeon as endangered. A year later the agency suspended beluga imports altogether from the Caspian region.

The move has stimulated some U.S. businesses and aquaculture programs that produce caviar made from the roe of wild paddlefish, farmed trout, and other American fish.

"We shipped more than 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) of trout caviar in 2005," said Sally Eason of the Sunburst Trout Company of Canton, North Carolina. "And in 2006 we're hoping to ship 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms)."

The Price of Status

Caspian Sea caviar has long been a status symbol, a delicacy commanding a high price.

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