The first baby fish, purchased in France and Hungary, arrived in Frutigen in 2005 — two years before the Loetschberg Tunnel opened, Schmid said, adding that this is why Tropenhaus Frutigen had only first been able to produce caviar last year.
Last year, the nearly 200kg of caviar made by the company was sold mainly on the domestic market, but Schid said the company was quickly broadening its focus and aimed to eventually sell two-thirds of the black gold internationally.
However, exporting sturgeon-based products is no simple matter.
Since the Siberian sturgeon have been over-fished in their natural habitat, the market is strictly regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a UN-affiliated organization charged with protecting endangered species.
Permits are required to sell products based on farmed sturgeon, while CITES often puts in place moratoriums on wild sturgeon products due to lacking quota accords between the countries surrounding the Caspian Sea. The sturgeon “is not endangered, but it could be threatened if there are not strict controls,” said David Morgan, who heads CITES’ scientific team.
Sturgeon farming, which has existed elsewhere in Europe since the 1970s, is a good thing since it “reduces pressure on the wild species,” he added.
Yet the practice could also have a flipside because it could push down the value of the wild sturgeon and thus remove a major “incentive to keep the waters clean,” Morgan said.