The Caspian Sea has traditionally been the world’s main source of caviar, but pollution and overfishing has caused serious problems for the fish in this enormous lake and yields are dwindling at a worrisome pace. The Caspian crisis is now prompting an increasing number of restaurants and importers to switch to Israeli caviar instead.
Sturgeon in pond – Not the facility talked about in the article
In Israel, Ossetra sturgeon (Acipenser persicus / Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) is commercially farmed at the Kibbutz Dan close to the Lebanese border, using eggs imported from the Caspian Sea. Compared to caviar from the Beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), Ossetra caviar – also known as Osetra or Asetra caviar – is firmer in texture and has the most variety in terms of size, color and flavor.
Kibbutz Dan began their Ossetra project in 2003, when caviar prices skyrocketed and made sturgeon roe even more expensive than before. The idea was not primarily to export caviar, but to satisfy the demands of the large Russian-Israeli population, according to Ben Tzvi at Kibbutz Dan. The location of the sturgeon fish farm is well chosen since it can use water from the snow-fed river Dan, a principal source of the river Jordan.
Under normal conditions, a female Ossetra sturgeon will not become sexually mature until she is around 15 years old, but Israeli biologist Avshalom Hurvitz has managed to make female sturgeons commence egg-laying at an age of just 8 or 9 years.
So, is sturgeon roe really kosher? Since the sturgeon is considered a scale-less fish, it is seen as forbidden food according to traditional Jewish dietary laws. However, according to Berta Levavi-Sivan, a scientist at the Hebrew University and a participant in the sturgeon-rearing project, the sturgeon fish is actually equipped with tiny scales – it is has only been considered a scale-less fish because the scales are too small to bee seen with the naked eye.