Paddlefish are huge. An average adult can reach 5ft to 7ft in length, and the largest paddlefish on record caught in Iowa weighed nearly 200 pounds. Paddlefish can live more than 50 years. Females do not mature until nearly 20-years-old, while males mature at about 10-years-old.
Where they once thrived, paddlefish no longer swim the waters of 4 states. Among 11 of the 22 states where the species can be found, it is feared that wild paddlefish could disappear if more precautions are not taken. Reasons for their decline include: loss of habitat due to modifications of rivers, pollution and overfishing. (Source: USGS)
Wild American Paddlefish Caviar is Available Legally
Several states allow strictly managed fishing seasons for paddlefish. Paddlefish meat or roe cannot be sold commercially. However, three facilities in the U.S. were given exemptions to export wild paddlefish caviar in exchange for using a portion of their profits to support local paddlefish research and management. The Glendive (Montana) Chamber of Commerce is well known for its Yellowstone Caviar. 30 percent of Glendive’s profits pay for paddlefish research, management, and fishing-site improvements. The rest is used for recreation, cultural and historical projects. North Star Caviar, a nonprofit company operated by the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce and the Friends of Fort Union/Fort Buford, donates a portion of its profits to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Finally, the state-run Oklahoma Paddlefish Research Center exports most its paddlefish caviar to Europe and Japan. The revenues are used to fund paddlefish management.
Each organization depends on local anglers who legally catch paddlefish to donate their catches. Each facility clean the fish for free and return the meat to the anglers, while keeping the roe for caviar production.
American Farmed Caviar Is Your Best Option, Say Conservationists
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch™ says wild paddlefish and sturgeon caviar should be avoided because state-managed conservation programs are not consistently working. But if you can’t imagine a special occasion without caviar there are alternatives.
The environmental campaign Caviar Emptor says, “Caviar varieties produced from sturgeon and paddlefish farmed in the United States offer excellent taste and are environmentally sustainable.”
Caviar Emptor, led by the National Resources Defense Council, SewWeb, and the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, was instrumental in urging the U.S. to impose the 2005 ban of imported beluga caviar made from critically endangered sturgeon from the Caspian Sea. At the time, beluga sturgeon numbers in the Caspian plunged by more than 90 percent within just 20 years, nearly driving the species to extinction. It is still considered critically endangered.
Thanks to celebrity chefs, such as Jacques Pépin, Nora Pouillon, and Charlie Trotter, who enthusiastically backed and promoted American farmed caviar, the domestic market has started to take off. According to Bloomberg Businessweek Sacramento, California’s Sterling Caviar produces 60 percent of farmed caviar in the U.S., all of which is from farmed sturgeon. But the market is expanding across the country with facilities like Osage Beach, Missouri’s L’Osage, which farms American paddlefish for its caviar.
FERN staff wondered if we were to prepare our own farmed caviar, how would we do it? Our Editor-in-Chief, Sam Fromartz was able to get a hold of his chef friend Barton Seaver. Seaver is no ordinary chef. In addition to being an expert in sustainable culinary arts, he is the director of Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy and Sustainable Food Program, based at the Center for Health and Global Environment. In addition to all that, Seaver is a Sustainability Fellow in Residence at the New England Aquarium and a National Geographic Society Fellow.
Here’s what Seaver shared with us:
When I serve caviar I like to remove some of the salt from the eggs in order to get a cleaner flavor. Some of the salt used to cure the roe can be removed simply by soaking the caviar in cold water with the addition of a pinch of salt. This will take no more than 10 minutes and the resulting caviar will present a flowery and aromatic personality that I find very compelling. Simply strain the roe by gently pouring in into a fine mesh strainer and allow to drip dry.
To serve, top Ritz crackers with a dollop of sour cream, a spoonful of the caviar, and finish with a drop of lemon juice. You can add an herb garnish if desired, my favorite being tarragon.
If its claims are true, “Correct Caviar” or no-kill caviar may be the most sustainable in the world. The company Vivace GmbH says it has developed a viable commercial method to remove roe from live farmed sturgeon without having to cut them open or kill them. “Correct Caviar” is available in the U.S., but it’s not cheap. The least expensive we could find was $125 for 1 oz.
Watch these Missouri Department of Conservation videos to learn more about the paddlefish: