In two or three years a novelty product could hit the shelves: Greek caviar. By that time the first sturgeon stocks sold by the Municipal Company of the Lake of Ioannina (DELI) will have reached caviar-producing maturity. For the past eight years, DELI has been working to reintroduce sturgeon to Greece.
This Ioannina aquaculture initiative follows a worldwide reaction to the crisis faced by the large, long-living, prehistoric fish.
Caviar prices have increased as varieties of sturgeon, such as the valued beluga (which lives up to 150 years and accumulates up to 1 tonne of weight), are becoming seriously depleted in the Caspian and Black seas, due to over fishing and pollution. Moreover, legendary Russian and Iranian caviar producers are facing competition from fisheries in Europe and the US .
DELI focused initially on the ecological needs and reproductive life of the smallest variety of this adaptable fish, the ruthenus (Acipenser ruthenus or Sterlet). It moved on to other varieties of sturgeon, including the Siberian (Acipenser baeri) and Russian Sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedti) . Special sturgeon incubation and raising facilities were set up on DELI’s 80,000-square-metre fishery in Anatoli Municipality, near Ioannina Lake (also known as Lake Pamvotis) in Northwest Greece.
The fish totally adapts itself to Greek conditions and is capable of growing throughout the country, requiring only a stable year-round water temperature. It grows well in fisheries, even though in the wild it is a migratory creature; the fish, indigenous to all of the Northern Hemisphere, normally migrates to the sea and returns to reproduce in rivers or lakes.
While almost nonexistent today in Greek nature, the sturgeon is no stranger to the country. Natsis says there are records of sturgeon fishing in places such as northern Greece that date back thirty years. Actually, sturgeons once swam from the Black Sea to Greek waters, but dams and the draining of lakes and rivers for agriculture made the fish disappear.
Introducing the in-demand sturgeon was a natural development for DELI, one of the few fresh-water fish specialists in a country focused on saltwater fish production. The company is owned by the Epirus Development Company, the Fishermen’s Cooperative, the Nissos Community and the Ioannina Municipality. It was founded 18 years ago to increase the depleted fish stocks of Ioannina Lake. Back then the lake was reeling from the lack of a sewage treatment plant (now built).
The ichthyologist Lazaros Natsis believes that the caviar produced by DELI’s fishery clients will taste very similar to more expensive imported varieties. He points out that fishery caviar is safer, without the risk of toxins found in some sturgeon harvested in the wild. While laws prevent DELI from growing the endangered beluga sturgeon, the company has been working with the bester, a hybrid of the largest (beluga) and smallest (ruthenus) sturgeons.
Extracting the caviar
The fish is taken out of the water
A small incision is made
The caviar is extracted
The incision is sutured and the fish returns into the water. More caviar can be extracted from the same fish after one year
Source: Ta Nea, daily newspaper of Greece
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