"BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota nonprofit that turns paddlefish eggs into caviar is suspending operations, blaming a glut of cheap Chinese caviar on the market.
North Star Caviar for a quarter century has offered free fish-cleaning services to anglers during the month-long paddlefish season on the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers in May in return for keeping the eggs.
North Star Caviar is continuing to seek a market for its 2016 product, but it will not provide the free fish-cleaning service this year. That means the loss of part-time jobs for about 20 people. The nonprofit's full-time general manager will stay on.
Game and Fish is trying to find a group willing to provide the fish-cleaning service, with the start of the season only two weeks away.
"The public has come to expect having their fish cleaned, and it helps keep the area cleaner." Eighty to 90 percent of the fish harvested (each year) are taken to that fish-cleaning site," state Fisheries Chief Greg Power said."
Over the past decade the caviar industry has begun to really feel the effects that cheap imports can have on the market. Due to advances in aqua farming technologies across the globe, the demand for domestic wild-caught product has been rapidly declining, forcing many fisheries and producers of American caviar products to shutdown. This is especially true for those catching the American paddlefish, a fish that produces very affordable and (once upon a time) very popular caviar.
On top of losing American businesses and the jobs they provide, cheaper imports can sometimes overload the market and reduce the diversity of available products. If everyone is able to get true sturgeon caviar for not much more money than paddlefish caviar, then paddlefish gets kicked out of the market and no one ends up producing it. Having options is nice when a person wants to expand their palette.
Although Caviar Star inspects our imports and domestic product with equal scrutiny, foreign producers are not always held to the same health standards as they are here in the U.S. Qualitative control measures are especially important in the caviar market, which makes the 450 tons of Chinese caviar pouring into the market all the more troubling.
We hope that North Star Caviar, and other producers of American caviar competing against cheaper imports are able to regain their market share and continue operations. Fisheries, producers and unique non-profits such as North Star offer wonderful services to the world of caviar. Let's hope we don't see them disappear.
Sources: US News & World Report