The Astrakhan Black Gold

The city of Astrakhan, perhaps one of the most famous in the world for the black caviar production, is likely to remain so only in historical documents. The city of Astrakhan lies on the bank of the Volga River at about a hundred Km from the Caspian Sea. This is the place where it concentrates 95% of the living sturgeon in the wild, including the Beluga sturgeon, a species from which is obtained the finest caviar of world. When the caviar was part of the daily food, especially for poor people, the sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that lives since more than 250 million years, it abounded in the waters of the Caspian Sea and in the Volga River. Starting from the late 90’s the number of sturgeons living in the Volga River and into the Caspian Sea has dropped significantly, until the point that it’s at risks of extinction. The decline in number of sturgeons into the Caspian Sea are likely to be related with oil and gas plants into the Caspian Sea that leave behind polluted soil and water. Also construction of electric plants during the Stalin period along the Volga River it’s a cause. Again high levels of pollution produced by thousands of industries and by the 60 million people who populate the 3700 km of the Volga are for sure causes, but it seems that the biggest problems that have made that a fish that can live for more than hundred years and that is outlasted to the dinosaurs it’s close to the extinction, are the overfishing and the poaching for the lucrative caviar market. Since 2002 the Russian government has therefore banned any fishing activity related with the sturgeon in the Caspian Sea and in the Volga River. In other words, something that has been part of the Russian culture and culinary tradition since ever, such as the black caviar, will not be found anymore in nature, at least until the sturgeon population will be restored. Nowadays, from one side there are many private factories that are growing in the field of caviar production and sturgeon’s breeding, but on the other hand the number of poachers, already high, has grown significantly. Even if in these days the sturgeons are hard to catch, for people who earns nothing or 100 euro a month it’s hard to refuse the possibility to get 10,000 euro in a day. The result is that a high number of people, especially villagers that they don’t want to end up in the trade of illegal fishing and that were making their living with the business of sturgeon’s meat and caviar trade, are now struggling to find jobs. Beside the efforts implemented by the Russian Government, according to many specialists, in the future it will be impossible to find sturgeons in nature, means that the most prestigious caviar in the world will be probably obtained only from farmed sturgeons.