Even if you don't often buy real caviar because of its high price, you know that the worldwide production of this gourmet treat has been drastically reduced in recent years because of sturgeon populations decline in the Caspian Sea. Now, Israeli researchers might help caviar lovers. They've started by importing fertilized sturgeon eggs eight years ago. According to the scientists, 'it takes eight to fifteen years for the female sturgeon to reach puberty and start producing eggs, while male sturgeon reach puberty after four or five years.' And fisheries need to wait for the first four years because it's impossible to tell the gender of the fish before this age. After the gender has been determined -- by endoscopy -- male sturgeons are sold on the fish market while females are fed until they can deliver up to $3,000 in caviar. But read more...
You can see above one of these big sturgeons at the Kibbutz Dan Fishery. (Credit: Avshalom Hurvitz) Here is a link to a larger version of this photo. Here are are additional links to Kibbutz Dan fish farms in Israel (Galilee Caviar).
The research team was led by Professor Berta Levavi-Sivan of the Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences. She worked with Dr. Avshalom Hurvitz, a biologist at Dan Fish Farms, and other colleagues in the Department of Animal Sciences.
Now, let's look at how much money a single fish can generate. "The average female sturgeon can produce US$3,000 worth of caviar. This is proving to be big business for Kibbutz Dan in the north of Israel, where 40,000 of the sturgeon are now being reared in outdoor pools. Managing director of 'Caviar Galilee' in Kibbutz Dan, Yigal Ben-Tzvi, estimates that by 2010, the company's annual revenues will reach US$7.3 million." Of course, the researchers would like to "speed up the puberty process of the female sturgeon in order to reduce the time it takes to produce the caviar."
But another issue remains: is sturgeon kosher? "Sturgeon -- and hence caviar -- is not generally considered to be kosher, due to the fish's apparent lack of scales. Kosher fish must have both fins and scales in order to be deemed kosher. However, Prof. Levavi-Sivan, who has undertaken similar fish-rearing projects in Uganda and the Palestinian Authority, suggests otherwise. 'If you ask me, it's kosher! I can even prove it has scales,' she says, insisting that the sturgeon does in fact have tiny scales that can be viewed with a stereoscope."
You also should read one section of a September 2005 Israel High-Tech & Investment Report, "Israeli Fish Farm succeeds in Producing Caviar." Apparently, the Dan Fish Farms were already able to produce caviar at this time. "Galilee Caviar, a subsidiary of Dan Fish Farms in Kibbutz Dan in the Upper Galilee, Israel, is producing caviar from sturgeon roe. The first 20 kg of caviar produced by Galilee Caviar was sent to several leading chefs in Europe, who proclaimed the Israeli-made caviar was of top quality. Plans are now afoot to produce 100 kg of caviar by the end of this year, and during the first stage, to produce 4000 kg of caviar a year, to be sold at $500 per kg, expecting annual revenues to reach $2m."
For more technical information about this project, the research team has recently published an article in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation under the name "Cloning of Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor I and their expression in male and female fish during the first period of growth" (Volume 31, Number 3, Pages 201-210, March 2008). Here is a link to the abstract.
Finally, a website named Palace of Fine Foods, possibly located in Scottsdale, Arizona, says in Farming the Future that it's proud to announce a relationship with Dan Fish farms in Israel (Galilee Caviar). "We feel they produce the finest Russian Osetra our planet has to offer." You can even buy it here. Personally, I'll skip it. Two varieties are for sale, Plaza Osetra Gold Israel, for $20, and Plaza Osetra Israel, for $10. But how much caviar will you get for this price? "0.00 lbs," says the site, which adds that it has only "1000 item(s) available." The site also says that $10.00 are equivalent to € 8.70. This is a sign that this website has not been updated for a while. Today, $10.00 are equivalent to € 6.80.
So if you want to buy Israeli caviar from this site, you have been warned: do it at your own risk.
Sources: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem news release, August 28, 2008; and various websites
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