U.N. Panel Lifts Ban on Most Caviar Exports

A U.N. panel has lifted a ban on the export of Caspian caviar except for the highly prized beluga variety, on which a decision will be made later this year, a U.N. official said Tuesday.

The move by the U.N.-sponsored conservation body CITES means that Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan can sell limited amounts of the expensive delicacy on the world market during 2007.

Last year, CITES, the U.N. 's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, refused to provide export quotas for Caspian caviar in order to help protect the endangered fish from which it is taken. Only Iran was allowed to sell sturgeon eggs from a species that is concentrated in its waters.

The ban "undoubtedly helped to spur improvements to the monitoring programs and scientific assessments carried out jointly by the five Caspian neighbors," CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers said.

"The income earned from the sale of sturgeon products in 2007 should provide both an incentive and the means to pursue the long-term recovery of this commercially and ecologically valuable natural resource," he said.

Caviar and meat from three types of Caspian sturgeon — Russian sturgeon, Persian sturgeon and stellate sturgeon — will be allowed onto the world market, providing some relief for fishing communities and suppliers of high-class delicatessen stores.

The Geneva-based body said it had lowered caviar export quotas by 15 percent compared with 2005 after governments agreed to reduce catch levels for three of the six Caspian sturgeon species by 20 percent.

Two species — ship sturgeon and sterlet — were given no export quotas, while a decision on whether to allow the sale of caviar from the rare and expensive Beluga sturgeon was postponed because the five countries did not provide enough information, said CITES.

It said governments would be given another month to provide the data on beluga before the panel makes a final decision.