By Amina Nazarli
What's your country famous delicacy? The answer for Azerbaijanis will probably be kebab from sturgeon and caviar on bread with butter.
About 20 years ago sturgeon meat and black caviar were available to ordinary citizens and these two products were a frequent guest of many refrigerators. At the time, Azerbaijanis have no problems with deficiency, as the Caspian Sea provided residents with caviar, fish, and other seafood in sufficient quantities. But the situation changed cardinally over the past years following a moratorium applied on sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea.
Currently there is no black caviar on the domestic market, as Azerbaijan strictly adheres to the official moratorium on catching sturgeon and caviar.
About 90 percent of sturgeon stocks are concentrated in the Caspian Sea, and the product is expected to be available for residents of the country lying on the azure seashore. But this is not the case, and this is primarily due to the fact that the stocks of sturgeon have significantly depleted recently.
They say this is the fault of the poachers, who are not afraid to be caught, because the risk fully pays off. Often sturgeon caught by poachers is sold in bazaars, and very seldom at nearby small markets -- but the prices are quite high to kill an appetite.
Unfortunately, the sturgeon stocks continue to decrease and the situation is already assessed as critical. Over the past 10 years, the number of sturgeon in the Caspian has decreased almost 10-fold. Reduction of fish stocks is typical not only for Azerbaijan, but also typical for the Caspian Sea on the whole.
The issue will be soon discussed in Baku within the first session of the intergovernmental Commission on Water Biological Resources of Caspian Sea on November 21-23.
Mehman Akhundov, director of the Scientific Council of Scientific-research Azerbaijan Fisheries Research Institute (AFRI) of Ecology and Natural Resources Ministry, said that the meeting will focus on possibility of concluding an intergovernmental agreement on a moratorium and setting a ban on catching sturgeon for a period of 20-25 years.
“Given that sturgeons mature late and are able to produce eggs once in 18 years, this is a necessary measure for their reproduction,” Akhundov told Trend.
He reminded that according to the protocol adopted at the fourth summit of the heads of Caspian littoral states, held in Astrakhan in September 2014, the commission was instructed to agree on an agreement on raising the status of the Commission on Water Biological Resources of Caspian Sea from interagency up to intergovernmental.
“All the Caspian states joined this agreement in mid-2016. The first session of this commission with its intergovernmental status will be held in Baku,” noted the director.
Akhundov said that in general, all the Caspian littoral countries have been introducing a technical moratorium on industrial sturgeon fishing since 2011.
“This means that although an interstate agreement was not signed, the countries agreed to apply a moratorium on catching the sturgeon,” he added.
Caviar is one of the most nutritious foods. Caviar of sturgeons and salmonids contain about 30 percent of high-value proteins, which is rare for products of animal origin, and 10-13 percent of easily assimilated fats. Caviar is rich in lecithin (up to 43 percent), fat-soluble vitamins A and D, vitamins E and group B.
The Caspian states have agreed to breed and release the sturgeon fry at sea, so that they can then fish in the Caspian. Azerbaijan has been engaged in sturgeon fishing for a long time. There are four sturgeon breeding enterprises in the country.
In 2013, Khylly factory managed to artificially acquire black caviar. They obtained five kilograms of caviar from five female sturgeons. After fertilization with milk of two males, these eggs were placed in an artificial insemination apparatus to obtain more than 200,000 fry.
Perhaps, over time, the population of sturgeon in the Caspian will recover. Environmental issues are constantly discussed at general meetings of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran. The joint efforts of the Caspian countries are seriously combating poaching. And the newest methods of fish breeding allow preserving life for adults.
Amina Nazarli is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @amina_nazarli
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