This year fishing quotas permitted the catching of the sturgeon, which is highly prized for its delicate black eggs, for research and fish farms only. However, caviar in Russia has been available not only on the black market, but also in large retail chains.
"It is still unclear where the large export quotas that this country submits to the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) come from," Alexei Vaisman, a WWF expert, said. "To date, these quotas are equal to and sometimes exceed the total permitted catch."
In 2007, Russia set caviar exports at 20 tons, while the 2007 fishing quota permitted only 110 tons of sturgeon, sufficient for 12 tons of caviar.
Vaisman said that Russia should introduce a law on the obligatory disposal of all confiscated caviar as the first step toward stopping the illegal sturgeon trade.
"The next step should be to introduce a moratorium on caviar exports for at least five years," the statement says.
Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Kazakhstan are the world's largest exporters of caviar, which is usually associated with luxury and wealth. The highest prices paid are for Beluga caviar (on average $200-220 per ounce), Ossetra ($190 per ounce) and Sevruga ($170 per ounce).
Prices of caviar rose sharply in 2005 after the U.S., the world's top caviar consumer, banned the import of Caspian Sea Beluga caviar in order to protect the endangered Beluga sturgeon.
Later imports of all varieties of caviar and sturgeon products from the Caspian and Black Sea were also banned until countries provide evidence that their fishing activities pose no threat to the endangered species.