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Sturgeon Aquaculture

North American sturgeon aquaculture started in 1979 with a grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to researchers at the University of California, Davis for the purpose of developing suitable spawning techniques of the white sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus.  Dr. Serge Doroshov and his team of researchers collected wild broodstock from the Sacramento River and worked on developing methods to reliably spawn this species.  The results of this early work and subsequent sturgeon research led to opportunities for commercial sturgeon culture.  Initially, white sturgeon was the species of choice, but by 2012, North American sturgeon farming has expanded to more than 21 sturgeon farms in the U.S. and Canada culturing 8 sturgeon species including white (A. transmontanus), Atlantic (A. oxyrinchusoxyrinchus), shortnose (A. brevirostrum), Siberian (A. baerii), Russian (A. gueldenstaedtii), beluga (Huso huso), sevruga (A. stellatus), and sterlet (A. ruthenus).

Sturgeon aquaculture products include live fish sales, processed fish, specialty items such as notochord for certain recipes, scutes for jewelry, skin for leather and of course, caviar. North American sturgeon production in 2012 was approximately 1,350 metric tons. Estimated sturgeon production by 2017 may exceed 2,200 metric tons.

The first caviar production from aquacultured North American sturgeon occurred in 1994.  This domestic white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) caviar was produced by Sea Farms of Norway (now Sterling Caviar) in Wilton, California.  The North American sturgeon caviar industry has grown from that time and presently produces and markets many varieties of caviar from various cultured species.  This caviar has caught the attention of the world and now rivals some of the best caviars produced anywhere.

North American caviar is sold through a number of distribution networks.  Bulk caviar is sold directly to food service industries such as hotels, restaurants, and caterers.  Caviar is also sold to caviar purveyors that repack this bulk product into smaller containers for distribution to the food service industry, retail establishments and for internet sales.  North American caviar production in 2012 was estimated to range from 15-20 metric tons and is marketed both domestically and exported overseas. Estimated caviar production may exceed 50-60 metric tons by 2017.