CITES deemed a “toothless tiger” in European caviar trade

Published on
April 15, 2021

A leading caviar trader in London, England is calling for a tightening of appellation rules for sturgeon.

Caspian Monarque Director Cyrus Tabrizi said country-of-origin rules are being abused by distributors of Chinese caviar marketing their wares in Europe as Iranian and Russian.

Tabrizi has written to Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to complain about labeling on caviar being sold in London. He singled out a produced labeled as “Russian Oscietra Caviar,” which the London-based distributor Tsars said is Chinese product being sold under a name used by the producer for its sturgeon, which it claims has Russian origins.

“At a high level, it relates to the dissonance between CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] laws and consumer laws in the U.K. and E.U.,” Tabrizi told SeafoodSource. “The end result being the consumer is being deceived and the sellers enriched.”

Tabrizi said he expects the ASA to begin requiring caviar sellers to list their products’ origin on the front of the tin.

“That's likely and it's something the EU Aquaculture Advisory Council has recommended,” he said.

Additionally, Tabrizi said he hopes the ASA pushes to require the display of species name, product origin, and canning or repacking location information on the front side of the can. He also wants the type of production – “eggs ovulated or not" – to be detailed in each product’s labeling.

“CITES law itself requires all of this; However, this is at the back of the tin. The front is often a free-for-all,” Tabrizi said. “Practically speaking, the present lack of rules undermines CITES enforcement and transparency in the market. Given the gap in the law, CITES has been rendered a toothless tiger.”

High-end retailers in Britain have been criticized for selling Chinese caviar from the kaluga variety of sturgeon as that of the beluga – considered in the caviar trade as the premium sturgeon.

Last year, Tabrizi told SeafoodSource that caviar from China and Spain with false marketing claims is undercutting higher-quality product from the Caspian Sea. He said then that competitors have “skillfully exploited” a misconception that there’s a lack of caviar production in Iran and Russia in order to grab market share. The relative lack of farmed caviar from Iran and Russia is “a purely geopolitical” rather than a supply issue, said Tabrizi, who points to sanctions on Iran and Russia as the reason why much Iranian production is now being sold in Arab petro-states.

Demand for caviar in Europe is recovering after falling during the COVID-19 lockdown, said Tabrizi, who said he is also bringing a complaint to the E.U. authorities.

Photo courtesy of LuYago/Shutterstock

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