Iranian caviar veteran sees CITES criticism as misdirected

Published on
May 6, 2021

Complaints of the effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) control in regulating the sales of caviar are misdirected, according to a prominent Iranian industry insider.

Leading British caviar trader Cyrus Tabrizi, the director of London, U.K.-based Caspian Monarque, has called for a tightening of appellation rules for sturgeon, which he claimed are being abused by distributors of Chinese caviar in Europe marketing their wares as Iranian and Russian. Tabrizi told SeafoodSource last month CITES is a “toothless tiger” as a result of “dissonance” between CITES laws and consumer laws in the U.K. and European Union.

But Nasser Oktaei, formerly an executive at Shilat Trading Corp. and A.S.S.H, both state-owned Iranian entities dealing in caviar, took issue with Tabrizi’s complaint.

“Today, all the caviar sold and bought worldwide [is derived from] farmed products and have nothing to do with natural sources of sturgeon, the protection of which was and is the main objective of CITES convention,” he told SeafoodSource. “The main concern of CITES now should be [ensuring] no product of wild sturgeon come to the caviar market, not supervising on trade of farmed caviar.”

In 2010, Oktaei said he switched to exclusively buying and trading farmed caviar due to a ban on produce from wild sturgeon.

“I started the job at a time when there was no farmed caviar production in any part of the world. Hundreds of fish species are [now] produced in farms and transacted,” Oktaei said. “I started my job in 1989 and continued until 2010, when the trade of sturgeon products from natural resources was banned by the CITES convention. The reason CITES-registered sturgeon species [landed] on the list of endangered species in April 1998 was the drastic decrease in sturgeon populations in natural habitats, the biggest of which was the Caspian Sea.” 

Photo courtesy of Rostislav Stefanek/Shutterstock

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