msnbc.com
updated 9/1/2004 3:05:20 PM ET 2004-09-01T19:05:20

A U.N. agency has ordered that the international trade of caviar from the Caspian Sea, particularly from the endangered beluga sturgeon, be suspended because nations sharing the resource were in violation of an international conservation agreement.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, refused to approve most caviar export quotas for 2004, saying Caspian nations must agree on a quota system and take illegal fishing into consideration when determining those numbers.

“The CITES’ ban on caviar exports is a very positive sign, and it must be sustained in order to reverse the beluga sturgeon’s long-term slide towards extinction,” Ellen Pikitch, professor and director of the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science, said in a statement.

Beluga sturgeon populations have fallen 90 percent in the past 20 years due to overfishing, habitat loss and pollution.

While the ban won't prevent the black market trade, CITES said it would remain in place until the Caspian nations comply with the agreement.

In the United States, the Fish & Wildlife Service last April declared beluga sturgeon as “threatened with extinction.” That made it eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act, but the agency last June said it would not ban imports or take other immediate actions to protect the species.

Caviar Emptor, an alliance of conservationists that had asked for the listing, encourages caviar aficionados to instead buy U.S. caviar from farmed sturgeon, paddlefish and trout as well as wild salmon and whitefish roes.

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