Source: Press TV
Iran expects to export 1.5-2.0 tons of caviar produced in its hatcheries this year amid a ban on commercial fishing of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea.
Caviar packed at a facility in Iranian city of Bandar Anzali.
The world's biggest exporter of the delicacy produced 1.2 tons of caviar last year in addition to 600 tons of sturgeon meat, head of Iran's Fisheries Organization Hassan Salehi told Mehr News Agency.
Caviar harvest is projected to grow 60% to 2.5 tons this year, the official who is also Iran's deputy agriculture minister separately said.
The countries around the Caspian Sea - Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan - account for more than 80% of caviar exports.
The landlocked waters are the breeding ground for the beluga sturgeon which produces the most expensive caviar in the world at about $400 an ounce.
Sturgeon stocks however are dangerously depleted and threatened with extinction, forcing the UN's wildlife-protection arm CITES to impose a ban on the Caspian sturgeon fishing and trade in 2001.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora exempted Iran from the ban and left it with a license for legal international trade in caviar and sturgeon meat.
In 2010, the presidents of the five littoral states of the Caspian Sea agreed to ban sturgeon fishing for five years in order to improve stocks.
Salehi said the countries will mostly likely extend the embargo for another five years but poaching still remains a problem.
Russia is now a customer of the Iranian caviar "given the restrictions" it is facing, the official said.
"Certain countries continue illegal fishing in the Caspian Sea despite the ban," he added.
Salehi touched on Iran's conversation efforts, saying the country released 3.074 million sturgeon fingerlings into the sea last year.
The fisheries organization meanwhile helped private investors breed fingerlings for the first time.
Sturgeon farming includes protecting females which take up to 18 years to become mature. Poachers usually leave those females to die along with the rest of their catch.
Salehi said Iran will open a sturgeon farming plant in the Caspian city of Sari this year with a capacity to produce 2,000 tons of meat and 10 tons of caviar.
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