Flooding in China hurts country’s caviar production

Published on
August 28, 2020

Recent floods in central China have wreaked havoc upon the country’s sturgeon farmers, who are now dealing with a wave of escapes that could seriously impact their caviar production.

Authorities in China’s northwestern province of Gansu, which embraced sturgeon farming in recent years as a new source of economic growth, are warning of ecological chaos as thousands of the valuable fish escaped upstream to lakes in neighboring Sichuan Province.

The local offices of the Agriculture Ministry in Wen County (Gansu) is working with counterparts in Guangyuan city (Sichuan) to recapture the fish, while several companies on the Gansu side are offering CNY 6 (USD 0.84, EUR 0.72) per 500 grams to locals who recapture and return the fish alive.

Allowing fishermen back into the river water is problematic, however, as there is currently a 10-year fishing ban imposed for the Yangtze River. The prohibition was introduced with the goal of salvaging badly damaged ecosystems and depleted species, and enforcement of the ban has been backed with a strong government campaign. The effort to recapture the sturgeon risks undermining the ban and causing further damage to the Yangtze biosphere, according to the Sichuan provincial office of the Agriculture Ministry. Yet in a statement, the ministry concedes that “it’s absolutely essential” to recapture the sturgeon for the “ecological protection” of the Yangtze system.

Prominent sturgeon farmers in the Gansu region include Gansu Wen Xiang Fishing Industry Co. (also known as Gansu Wen Xiang Eco Fishery Co. Ltd.) which farms sturgeon along with its larger trout farming operation.

Wen Xiang, like many sturgeon and caviar firms in the Gansu region, got its broodstock from the Amur River between China and Russia. A fishing ban came into force over a decade ago to protect the Amur sturgeon.

China’s caviar exports increased fivefold in volume terms between 2013 and 2018, according to China Customs data, as aquaculture firms like Zoneco (it has a stake in the Amur Caviar Company Ltd., based in southwesterly Yunnan Province) invested in the sector in the wake of a collapse in supply from traditional caviar exporting powers like Iran. 

Photo courtesy of Olga Alper/Shutterstock

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