Skip to main content

Iran's priciest export at risk

Overfishing and pollution are not only threatening production of Iran’s prized caviar, but also the health of millions of Iranians living along the shores of the Caspian Sea.
An inspector checks the quality of caviar before packaging in a sterile preparation room in Zibakenar 360km (223 miles) northwest of Tehran October 4, 2006. In April 2006 a U.N. body set up to safeguard endangered species said it was extending a ban on the export of caviar from the Caspian Sea for all countries except Iran. Iranians are trying to combat the demise of the sturgeon with ambitious networks of hatcheries, designed to replenish stocks by releasing millions of young fish each year. Environmentali
Read in 

With Iran to its south and Russia to its north and west, the Caspian Sea is not only rich in oil and natural gas reserves, but it is also the world’s primary and largest habitat for the beluga, the most famous of the caviar sturgeons, as well as four other sturgeon species. This ancient fish, often described as a living fossil, has been swimming in the Caspian Sea since the time of the dinosaurs. It is one of the world’s most expensive and highly sought-after seafood, mainly for its coveted eggs. However, the deteriorating condition of the Caspian Sea has long been threatening this fish with extinction. For years, environmental researchers and activists in Iran have warned that because of the unclear legal status of the Caspian Sea, which makes it difficult to manage pollution, overfishing and poaching, the sturgeon will become extinct in the near future.

Esmail Kahrom, an adviser to the head of Iran's Environmental Protection Organization, told Al-Monitor, “Extinction in any part of the world is due to two factors. One is the destruction of a species’ habitat or threats to its environment, and the other is poaching. So on the one hand, we are destroying the sturgeon’s habitat, and on the other, we are overfishing it. Therefore, do you think any future other than extinction could await this fish?”

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.