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3-Minute Market Insight

EP 466 | AIRED 12/02/2019

The Chinese Sturgeon and Caviar Industry

December 2nd, 2019 --- Historically, sturgeon have always been a part of Chinese food culture believed to have lived at the same time as dinosaurs, the Chinese sturgeon has existed for more than 140 million years and is making a comeback to Chinese family tables.

Until recently, sturgeon is under top national protection and has only been fished for scientific purposes as they were on the brink of extinction in the late 20th century.

China joined the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1981 with efforts to protect the species and the natural sturgeon resources.

Commercial sturgeon farming began again in the 90s mainly with imported species, creating a boom into the early 21st century.

The total production of sturgeon started at 10 900 tonnes in 2003 to over 90 000 tonnes in 2017, making China the second largest sturgeon producer in the world.

UK-based market research company Technavio forecast that the global caviar market will be worth $1.55 billion by 2021, up almost 75 percent from 2016.

China mainly produces fresh 1-2kg fish for meat consumption, which is unique as sturgeon is normally farmed for caviar production.

Due to recent environmental concerns, many water areas are now barred from aquaculture.

Multiple sturgeon farms have shut down, leading to a significant decrease in sturgeon production and stocking in the farms.

As a result, Chinese sturgeon production is not expected to increase but most likely to remain steady or slightly decrease in the future.

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--- As for the caviar industry, due to the long maturity cycle of female sturgeon and the high risk investment for China, only 20 percent of sturgeon are actually being used for caviar production.

The production of Chinese cultured caviar grew from 0.7 tonnes in 2006 to 135 tonnes in 2018, as female sturgeons cultured by companies in Hunan, Zhejiang, Yunnan, Sichuan and other regions are now mature.

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China has since become one of the largest caviar producers in the world, although due to the decreasing sturgeon farming production, caviar will decrease accordingly.

Chinese caviar production is expected to change from quantity growth to quality improvement.

---- Looking at the future of caviar, with the increasing taste for excotic foods in the middle class, caviar is increasing popularity in China.

Buyers Corner

Caviar is a luxury item in Europe and the US and gradually in China. The total volume of caviar sold in China is still lower than in other major markets but it is growing significantly.

With the lessened supply caused by environmental regulations along with the growing domestic demand, caviar prices in China are expected to increase in the near future.

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