Ken Burton 202-208-5657
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is suspending import and re-export of threatened beluga sturgeon (Huso huso) caviar and meat originating in the Caspian Sea basin countries, effective September 30, the agency announced today. Countries covered by the suspension include Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Turkmenistan.
The Service listed all beluga sturgeon populations as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (Act) effective October 21, 2004. To provide economic incentives for conservation efforts by Caspian Sea and Black Sea countries harvesting beluga sturgeon, the Service issued a special rule on March 4, 2005, setting certain conditions for exempting foreign and U.S. domestic commerce in beluga sturgeon products from the Act's permit requirements. The terms of the special rule parallel recent decisions on beluga sturgeon and other sturgeon species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a global agreement under which nearly 170 countries, including the United States, seek to regulate and monitor international wildlife trade through a system of permits.
The special rule required Caspian Sea countries wishing to continue to export beluga sturgeon caviar and meat to the United States under this exemption to submit, by September 6, 2005, copies of their laws and management plans for the protection and conservation of the species. To date, the Service has not received any of the needed information from these countries. As a result, beluga sturgeon caviar (including products containing caviar, such as cosmetics) and meat from the Caspian Sea basin are no longer eligible for the exemption provided by the special rule. The trade suspension can be lifted if Caspian Sea countries submit the information required under the special rule.
Today's suspension applies not only to commercial shipments that have been exported directly from Caspian Sea countries or re-exported through an intermediary country, but also to "personal effects" originating in Caspian Sea countries. Until today, international travelers either entering or leaving the United States could legally carry up to 250 grams of beluga sturgeon caviar for personal use without permits. However, imports of personal effects will no longer be allowed for beluga caviar from Caspian Sea countries. Today's action does not apply to caviar and meat from other sturgeon species such as osetra, sevruga and domestic white sturgeon caviar.
Domestic interstate commerce in beluga sturgeon caviar and meat from the Caspian Sea basin that was legally imported before the trade suspension will continue to be authorized under the special rule without a threatened species permit. Because of the perishable nature of sturgeon caviar and meat, this exemption expires 18 months from the date of the original CITES export permit.
The Service is still reviewing documents received from Black Sea countries that harvest beluga sturgeon and has not yet reached a decision concerning their compliance with the special rule.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
visit our home page at http://www.fws.gov