07MOSCOW3348, ROE WOES: RUSSIAN CAVIAR ON THE ROPES

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW3348 2007-07-09 13:43 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO6809
RR RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD
DE RUEHMO #3348/01 1901343
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091343Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1924
INFO RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2241
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2544
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4292
RUEHZN/EST COLLECTIVE
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC 4915
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 003348 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR OES/OA, OES/OMC, EUR/PGI, AND EUR/RUS 
USDA FAS FOR OCRA/FLEMINGS; OSTA/MACKE; OGA/CHAUDHRY 
BRUSSELS PASS NOAA VRIGNAUD 
COMMERCE PASS NOAA, PASS TO NMFS AND F&WS/KOHL 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: SENV PGOV SOCI RS EAGR
SUBJECT: ROE WOES: RUSSIAN CAVIAR ON THE ROPES 
 
REF: A) 06 MOSCOW 11310 
     B) 05 MOSCOW 8539 
 
MOSCOW 00003348  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
1.  (SBU) SUMMARY.  A two-year moratorium on Russian sturgeon 
fishing in the Caspian Sea has slowed, but not stopped, the thriving 
black market in Beluga caviar.  World Wildlife Federation's Moscow 
Director contends that "not one egg" of black caviar sold in Moscow 
is legal: that is, from farm-raised fish or the byproduct of 
scientific catches.  WWF predicts that all sturgeon stocks in the 
Caspian will be wiped out in 15 years.  Astrakhan Oblast officials 
admit that over-fishing has brought about a collapse of supply, but 
they argue that the illegal trafficking is finally being curbed and 
that extensive restocking efforts hold great promise -- albeit a 
prospect measured in decades.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2.  (U) Walk into almost any "produkti" (grocery) store or 
supermarket in Moscow or St. Petersburg, and you can find Beluga 
caviar for sale.  Containers of 27 grams are priced at about 7,000 
rubles (roughly $280).  Most restaurants here also routinely include 
Beluga caviar as a menu item, albeit a pricey one.  This ready 
availability contrasts with a moratorium, in place since 2005, on 
commercial fishing quotas in Astrakhan Olbast, which includes the 
delta of the Volga River as it flows into the Caspian Sea.  For 
decades, Astrakhan provided the bulk of Russia's sturgeon and 
sturgeon caviar.  But that era of plenty is long over. 
 
Illegal Cornucopia 
------------------ 
 
3.  (SBU) World Wildlife Fund's Moscow Director Igor Chestin told 
EST recently that, despite the seeming abundance of Beluga in 
Moscow, "not one egg" of it is legal.  Any legal production of 
Beluga is being exported, he contended, because the price it can 
collect overseas is significantly higher than Moscow norms. 
According to current regulations, only caviar which is the byproduct 
of scientific catches or which has been farm-raised can be legally 
sold.  Until recently, caviar which has been confiscated from 
poachers could also be sold -- but that loophole has tightened 
considerably.  Astrakhan oblast officials have insisted that 
confiscated caviar be destroyed, because of contamination concerns. 
 
4.  (SBU) Wild sturgeon caviar from the Caspian Sea was also 
subjected to a 12-month ban by the Convention on International Trade 
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  The general 
prohibition was lifted in January 2007, with a small quota for 
beluga announced in May, but its implementation remains 
controversial.  Critics argued that, paradoxically, the ban simply 
bolstered the black market trade in Beluga because it caused prices 
to shoot upward.  Chestin agreed, noting that enforcement of the 
fishing moratorium was already weak but became even weaker when 
poachers became more determined.  Chestin was cynical about the 
prospects of changing the situation.  Astrakhan and its Caspian 
neighbors such as the Republic of Dagestan are severely economically 
depressed, he said.  Their residents have few alternatives to 
sturgeon poaching.  Chestin predicted that the entire stock of 
Caspian sturgeon would be wiped out within 15 years. 
 
5.  (U) Astrakhan officials seem to recognize that the situation is 
serious.  In a May 10 press interview, Governor Zhilkin contended 
that a concept of "total struggle against poaching" has been adopted 
at the federal level, on instructions from President Putin.  Zhilkin 
said that a new law on intensifying the fight against poaching 
should help.  Zhilkin contended that only Aeroflot is purchasing 
caviar through official channels.  In all other places such as 
stores and restaurants, he noted cryptically, "I do not know the 
source of supply."  Zhilkin said that the oblast has shifted its 
focus to sturgeon reproduction, and that it hopes to restore the 
entire sturgeon stock in the Russian part of the Caspian Sea within 
10 years. 
 
View from Astrakhan 
------------------- 
 
6.  (SBU) EST recently visited Astrakhan, and met with officials 
from the Caspian Scientific Research Institute for Fisheries and 
Oceanography, including Institute Director Gennadiy Sudakov.  Sergey 
Shiyan, head of the Federal Service for Northern Caspian Fisheries, 
was also present.  Sudakov claimed that Russia provides the majority 
of sturgeon stock in the Caspian, and emphasized the importance of 
the ten reproduction centers -- hatcheries and breeding farms -- now 
 
MOSCOW 00003348  002.2 OF 003 
 
 
actively operating on the Volga River, including a large one built 
into a dam in Volgograd.  He said the government plans to build a 
new one on the shore of the Caspian Sea.  These re
production 
centers, first established in the 1950's, were originally intended 
to counter the effects of hydroelectric dams and transportation 
canals on the Volga, he said. 
 
7.  (SBU) Sudakov conceded that over-fishing of sturgeon has brought 
about a collapse of supply.  He claimed that the ban on commercial 
fishing of sturgeon was a voluntary agreement between industry, 
scientists and government authorities to address the situation.  He 
noted that the problem is compounded by the life cycle of sturgeon, 
which take 18-24 years to mature.  This means that any attempt to 
restock the Caspian would require two decades.  Still, he was 
optimistic, contending that the current population has a healthy 
population of young fish, and that this would lead to an eventual 
recovery.  "We work for the future," Shiyan asserted in agreement. 
 
8.  (U) Artificial restocking attempts are expensive and have had 
mixed results so far.  The oblast last year released 55 million very 
young sturgeon into the sea, but they were quickly eaten by 
predators.  Older sturgeon, between one and five kilograms, should 
be hardier -- not least because they already have spines.  As an 
experiment, Sudakov said his institute will release 1,000 of these 
fish to see if they are able to survive.  They will track them with 
radio implants and tags.  Half the fish will be released in the 
river, the other half in the sea to provide a comparison of the 
results.  However, some scientists argue that these older 
farm-raised fish may not be able to catch the larger amounts of 
natural food needed to survive. 
 
9.  (U) Sudakov showed EST a documentary film featuring some of the 
institute's specialized equipment and techniques.  He was 
particularly proud of methods to remove caviar without killing the 
mother fish.  These included a "drill hole and milk" technique, and 
a "surgical cut and stitch." 
 
Breeding Sturgeon 
----------------- 
 
10.  (U) Shiyan escorted us to the Lebyazhye Fish Reproduction 
Enterprise, billed by its director, Lyudmilla Popova, as the largest 
sturgeon breeding facility in the world.  The facility has 145 
full-time employees and a steady supply of students from Astrakhan 
State University, as well as exchange students from overseas. (NOTE: 
Popova said American students would be welcome. END NOTE)  We 
watched lab workers inject a half dozen large-sized male fish with 
hormones in preparation for breeding.  We also saw tanks where older 
fish (more than five years) are being raised to be used, eventually, 
for breed stock (as opposed to capturing from the wild).  We toured 
the field where the 30 summer ponds are located. 
 
11.  (SBU) Along the way, Popova gave us a sturgeon tutorial.  She 
said the facility has 220 females which are kept there.  Males are 
captured in the wild, although they hope in future to have a male 
stock in the hatchery.  She noted that it is difficult to determine 
the sex of sturgeon when they are young.  Security is tight (guards, 
fences, locked buildings) at the section of the facility where the 
valuable adult fish are kept.  Security is deemed unnecessary at the 
summer ponds.  In these ponds, some 150,000 fry are put in each one. 
 The results are considered worthwhile if they have 100-120 fish at 
the end of the summer.  Birds are not a problem, and no covering 
nets are needed, Popova said, because sturgeon are bottom feeders. 
 
12.  (SBU) During a break over tea, Shiyan expounded on the topic. 
He said some sturgeon species do well in captivity (Beluga, 
Ossetra); some do not (Sevruga).   He expressed interest in U.S. 
scientific exchanges in this sphere of research.  Shiyan suggested 
that all illegal caviar for sale in Moscow is from the Far East, but 
contended that Russian authorities have finally put a stop to most 
of the trafficking.  He asserted that the situation in Astrakhan has 
been brought under control.  (NOTE: Indeed, there was almost no 
caviar for sale in the city.  The official stores that had been open 
two years ago (REF B) were closed.  An upscale supermarket had a 
half dozen very small jars priced at close to 3,000 rubles (about 
$120).  The fish market had a limited number of tins of black caviar 
mixed with other types of roe.  We bought several small jars at 270 
rubles (less than $12) each, and we were given what they assured us 
was legal documentation.  At the airport, however, security guards 
told us the fish market was not authorized to sell caviar.  Still, 
 
MOSCOW 00003348  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
they let us keep our purchase.  END NOTE) 
 
13.  (SBU) At the Fisheries Agency in Moscow, we pressed Aleksandr 
Okhanov, head of the Aquatic Bioresources and Fisheries Management 
Department, on the sources of caviar being sold in Moscow.  He 
claimed he could not say, then suggested, winking, that we should 
ask the Interior Ministry -- the clear implication being that much 
of it is illegal.  Okhanov reiterated that the Russian Government 
forbids all commercial sturgeon fishing and that the only permitted 
catches are for scientific research and for reproduction efforts. 
He contended that Russia follows sound scientific principles and 
adheres to all international conservation standards.  He noted that 
CITES had lifted the ban because the five-nation Caspian Sea 
Commission had reached agreement on reducing catches and monitoring 
stocks.  Turkmenistan is a member of the commission but not of 
CITES, he said, therefore Russia shares its quota with them.  As an 
aside, Okhanov commented that, within the Commission, Iran has been 
"difficult." 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
14.  (SBU) Given the severe depletion of sturgeon stocks -- by most 
estimates, a devastating 90 percent drop in annual catches from 1995 
to 2005, when the moratorium was imposed -- Russian authorities have 
much ground to recover.  They also face a daunting challenge in 
curtailing the black market.  Still, Astrakhan authorities appear 
resolute in this struggle, and are convinced they have the central 
government's support to eliminate poaching.  With proper law 
enforcement, the focus will shift to sturgeon reproduction efforts. 
The measure of those efforts is necessarily long-term, but Russia's 
strong scientific tradition should tilt the odds in favor of 
success. 
 
BURNS

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