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New Y2K worry: no caviar

July 29, 1999


MOSCOW--A looming caviar shortage is threatening to take some of the glitz out of millennium parties as fish-egg prices soar and Russian production slumps.

The best black caviar, from sturgeon caught mainly in the Caspian Sea, is the hors d'oeuvre of choice of the rich and famous. It's growing increasingly scarce as poaching, pollution and disappearing spawning grounds take a toll on the Caspian's sturgeon population. "It's almost critical," said Martin Adams, executive vice president for North America at Paris-based Petrossian, the biggest caviar importer to the United States, in business since 1920. "It's frustrating. Demand will dramatically increase because of the millennium and here we are with a lot less supply." Russian producers and foreign importers have raised prices as much as 45 percent this year, as demand from millennium revelers is expected to surge while the Caspian supply declines. Geneva-based Caviar House AG, with 40 gourmet food shops worldwide, estimates worldwide demand at about 350 tons, compared with a total of 200 tons available this year, about 110 of that from Russia. As prices rise, "caviar is more comparable to diamonds than simply food," said Thierry Uldry, managing director of Caviar House. AO Russkaya Ikra, one of Russia's biggest producers, said its exports will drop to about 8 tons this year, from 15 tons last year. "We've seen a big drop in supply this year," said Russkaya Ikra director Vyacheslav Mironov. "We hope to make up the fall in production through the increase in prices." An ounce of beluga rose to about $75 this year, from about $55 last year, said Petrossian's Adams. The biggest drop in sales probably will be to airlines, which purchase about 50 percent of the world supply for first-class passengers. Still, that drop in demand will be compensated by a 40 percent increase in retail demand expected in the fourth quarter for New Year's parties, according to Uldry. "We won't reach the quota for production this year due to poor weather conditions and supply problems," said Yuri Kokoryev, deputy director of the Russian Association of Fish Exporters and Producers. The Russian government also decreased caviar production after a quota on sturgeon catches was imposed in April 1998 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Russia also is increasing controls on poaching, which has illegally harvested as much as 100 tons of caviar annually, to secure the renewal of the sturgeon population. Russian caviar competes against other caviar produced from the Caspian Sea, the world's largest inland sea, in Iran, Kazakstan and Azerbaijan and in Chinese rivers northeast of Mongolia. Still, a U.S. trade embargo against Iran boosts demand for caviar from the former Soviet Union.

-- Cherri (, July 29, 1999


Locally, we have an ad in the paper warning that Y2K champagne is going to be short - so you better stock up now! Wonder if yeast is Y2K compliant?

-- Paul Davis (, July 30, 1999.

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