International regulation curbs illegal trade of caviar
Research that used mitochondrial DNA-based testing to compare the extent of fraudulent labeling of black caviar purchased before and after international protection shows conservation benefits. A team of scientists from the Institute for Conservation Science at Stony Brook University and the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) repeated a market survey of commercially available caviar in the New York City area that was conducted before the protection was put in place, and the results showed nearly a 50 percent decrease in fraudulently labeled caviar.
"Testing the effectiveness of an international conservation agreement: marketplace forensics and CITES caviar trade regulation," published online on July 25 in the journal PLoS ONE, compared the results of two market surveys conducted 10 years apart. The previous market survey conducted during 1995 through 1996, before the listing of the sturgeon by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) came into effect in 1998, revealed that 19 percent of commercially available caviar in the New York City area was mislabeled with respect to species origin. When sampling the same market from 2006 through 2008, fraudulently labeled caviar occurred in 10 percent of the caviar, and only occurred in the samples bought online.
Sturgeons and paddlefishes (Order Acipenseriformes), the producers of black caviar, are protected by CITES due to widespread population abundance declines from overfishing, habitat degradation, and illegal trade in caviar. Intentional mislabeling of caviar products can thwart trade regulations and diminish their impact on the conservation of the sturgeon. The conservation status of many sturgeon species has not improved, and has worsened in several cases, since the CITES listing, with most species now listed as "Critically Endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because overfishing remains a problem.
In addition to demonstrating the conservation benefits of trade regulation for threatened and endangered species, the research results also underscore the utility of such testing for enforcement of these regulations.
"The results of this study demonstrate the effectiveness of DNA-based methods to identify the species of origin for detection of illegal products in the marketplace," said George Amato, co-author and director of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History. "Moreover, these results demonstrate if this type of genetic testing is used by inspection officials in real time, it can help detect and discourage illegal harvesting of threatened and endangered marine species in the geographic regions in which it is occurring."