Illustration of Caviar/Roe

Caviar/Roe

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Seafood Variety

Harvest Method

Regions

Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Shortnose sturgeon

Acipenser brevirostrum

Method

Farmed

Recirculating aquaculture system (RAS)

Location

Canada, New Brunswick

Overall Rating

6.7 / 10

Summary

Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are similar for various farmed species. This recommendation applies to all species grown in RAS except for those where a separate species-specific RAS recommendation is available. Closed containment has recently emerged in the farming industry as an alternative to net pens in order to reduce the environmental impacts of an aquaculture system that is open to the environment.
Source of stock is domesticated broodstock for the vast majority of RAS farms. Therefore wild populations are not depleted to source the aquaculture operations. Impacts of feed use vary amongst RAS farms and the species being cultured.
The contained nature of RAS allows for close control and prevention of potential disease or parasite outbreaks. Risk of pathogens and their transfer to wild populations is low. Predator and wildlife mortalities are virtually eliminated when RAS systems are located indoors, and risk of escapes is low as the systems are not in direct contact with natural water bodies.
About 90-99% of water is typically recirculated after filtration and waste treatment. As such, little to no effluent is discharged to the environment and there is the opportunity to treat waste before discharge. The closed design of RAS and the application of biosecurity protocols reduce the risk of disease and parasites, and consequently require low use of chemicals. When chemicals are used, they cannot flow into the environment directly, and have the opportunity to be treated and sterilized before discharge. RAS farms are typically not built in sensitive habitats, and the closed system of the farms minimizes ecosystem impacts.

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Sea urchin roe, red sea urchin roe , uni

Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, S. franciscanus

Method

Wild

Diver

Location

Canada

Overall Rating

N/A / 5

Summary

Sea Urchins are fished in coastal North America, primarily for their eggs or sperm, called ‘roe.’ Japan exports more than 80% of the world’s sea urchin roe. In the Pacific Ocean, sea urchins can be found from California to Alaska in the intertidal and subtidal zones. BC’s sea urchin fishery is concentrated primarily in Queen Charlotte Strait and the Gulf Islands.

Red sea urchins are long-living, up to 100 years old. This species reaches sexual maturity after 5 years, and harvestable size (3.5 inches) after six to eight years. Populations are known to fluctuate with oceanographic processes such as El Nino events. Green sea urchins have highly variable growth rates depending on the availability of their primary food source, kelp. This species is shorter lived, at around 25 years. Both species have a high reproductive potential as they release several million eggs in a single spawning event. Both red and green sea urchins are relatively resilient to fishing pressures.

The red and green urchin fisheries in BC are managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with a precautionary approach that has been successful in maintaining stock numbers. Quotas, limited entries, area closures, and minimum harvest sizes have been established, and change annually with sea urchin abundance and sea otter population numbers. DFO is working towards establishing an ecosystem-based management regime. The management plan is known to be well-enforced and can be deemed as highly effective.

Dive-fisheries have high selectivity; bycatch of other species is very low in this fishery. Sea urchins are an important species in the kelp forest ecosystem. Their removal reduces herbivore pressure on kelps, causing a phase shift and allowing the establishment of kelp-dominated ecosystems.

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

White sturgeon

Acipenser transmontanus

Method

Farmed

Recirculating aquaculture system (RAS)

Location

Overall Rating

7 / 10

Summary

White sturgeon is currently farmed by only one operation, in British Columbia, Target Marine Hatcheries, located in Sechelt. The farm has been raising white sturgeon since 2000 and in 2012, it is estimated that they produced about 17 tonnes of sturgeon meat and 500kg of sturgeon roe.

White sturgeon have life history characteristics that make them vulnerable to fishing pressure such as their long lifespan and slow time to maturity. They are currently an endangered species and have long been targeted due to demand for their meat and caviar. In response to the declining stocks and increasing demand, aquaculture has been an important source of sturgeon. The aquaculture of white sturgeon relieves pressure on wild stocks to satisfy consumer demand.

White sturgeon are grown at a net protein loss, as more protein in the form of fishmeal or fish oil sourced from hake and herring must be fed in order to obtain a comparatively smaller amount of edible sturgeon. However, many other aspects of the aquaculture of sturgeon have minimal impacts on other species. Since the white sturgeon are reared indoors, there is little risk of predator mortality. Risk of escape and spread of disease is extremely low, since the fish are farmed on land, and are not connected to other water bodies. There is also no stress imposed on wild stocks, as fish are sourced from domesticated and farmed broodstock.

There are minimal habitat and ecosystem impacts since the farms are not located on particularly sensitive habitat, chemicals have not been used to date, 90% of the water is recirculated, and waste water is appropriately treated and disposed of.

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Capelin roe, smelt roe, massago

Mallotus villosus

Method

Wild

Midwater trawl, Purse seine

Location

Iceland

Overall Rating

N/A / 5

Summary

Capelin are a small cold-water fish that are a major food source for a variety of other marine fish, mammals and seabirds. Capelin also support a small but important commercial fishery, mostly to supply roe to sushi restaurants.

Capelin are fast-growing, early-maturing, short-lived and have a high reproductive output. These characteristics make them inherently resilient to fishing pressure. Stock status of Capelin is not well-understood but population fluctuations are thought to be part of the natural cycle for this species. Capelin fisheries are well-managed, particularly in Iceland. Management techniques in Iceland are quite progressive. Monitoring and enforcement is considered to be strong.

Bycatch for this fishery is low. Iceland has implemented a no discard policy which has kept bycatch below 2%. Most of the gear used to harvest Capelin operate mid-water or near the ocean surface, which have a minimal impact on marine habitats. The removal of significant numbers of capelin may have an impact on marine food-web dynamics.

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Variety

Atlantic sturgeon

Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus

Method

Wild

Large mesh bottom gillnet

Location

Quebec: St Lawrence River

Overall Rating

2.3 / 5

Summary

Atlantic sturgeon is one of the sturgeon species that produces caviar, and as a result, has historically been in high commercial demand. Commercial fishing began in 1880 and was so intense that the fishery was closed for 10 years in 1886. Severe fishing restrictions by management were implemented in 1996. Atlantic sturgeon is available as a local product in Canada and as an imported species in the US. About 100-120 tonnes of lake sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon are produced per year.

In Canada, Atlantic sturgeon are found in riverine estuaries. The Quebec stock in the St Lawrence River is classified as a threatened species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Atlantic sturgeon are not found on the US market due to their listing under the Endangered Species Act. Atlantic sturgeon have life history characteristics that make them highly vulnerable to fishing pressure. This includes a long lifespan, a long time to reach maturity, and infrequent spawning. Fishing mortality is thought to be the primary cause of mortality to the population.

Management of the sturgeon fisheries in Canada is strict. Regulations include gear restrictions, season closures, catch quotas, catch registration, size restrictions and enforcement. It is unknown whether management is effective. Abundance is not known, but based on a coarse estimate, it is thought that the population is between 500-1000 individuals.

Atlantic sturgeon which can reach up to 3m in length, are caught using large bottom gillnets. Due to the large size of the netting, very little bycatch is caught. Undersized individuals are occasionally caught but can be released. Gillnets do not usually come into contact with the substrate. If contact occurs, damage is minimal.

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Variety

Shovelnose sturgeon

Scaphirhynchus platorhynchus

Method

Wild

Drift gillnet

Location

Mississippi River, US

Overall Rating

1.7 / 5

Summary

Shovelnose sturgeon is one of the species that produces caviar, and as a result, has been in high commercial demand since the 1800’s. The US was the main producer of caviar until the late 19th century until populations declined. Stocks started to rebuild when management regulations were implemented and fishing pressure was lessened, although abundances still remain low. Value of US sturgeon caviar exports has varied from $5000 in 2005 to $750,000 in 2011, primarily due to increased domestic production and restrictions on Russian caviar from endangered species.

Shovelnose sturgeon were previously found in 24 states across the US but are now commercially fished in only a handful of them, due to fluctuating population abundances. Stock status is unknown in many states, and fishing mortality is thought to have been increasing. Sturgeon are at risk of poaching due to the high value of caviar.

The Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association (MICRA) Sturgeon and Paddlefish Committee is not a regulatory body, but was established in 1992 in order to facilitate exchange of information across state management bodies. No stock assessments or management goals have been established, although general population trends are shared.

Shovelnose sturgeon bear a strong resemblance to the endangered pallid sturgeon, and were given a threatened status in order to better protect the endangered species. Nevertheless, bycatch levels of pallid sturgeon are difficult to estimate due to misidentification. Gillnets do not usually come into contact with the substrate. If contact occurs, damage is minimal.

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Variety

Paddlefish

Polyodon spathula

Method

Wild

Drift gillnet

Location

Mississippi, US

Overall Rating

1.7 / 5

Summary

Paddlefish is one of the species that produces caviar, and as a result, has been in high commercial demand since the 1800’s. The US was the main producer of caviar until the late 19th century until populations declined. Stocks started to rebuild when management regulations were implemented and fishing pressure was lessened, although abundances still remain low. Value of US sturgeon caviar exports has varied from $5000 in 2005 to $750,000 in 2011, primarily due to increased domestic production and restrictions on Russian caviar from endangered species.

Paddlefish previously had a large geographical range, but populations have declined due to habitat damage, and they are now found in only a few areas. Stock status and fishing mortality rates are unknown, although paddlefish are at risk of poaching due to the high value of caviar. Paddlefish have life history characteristics that make them inherently vulnerable to fishing pressure.

The Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association (MICRA) Sturgeon and Paddlefish Committee is not a regulatory body, but was established in 1992 in order to facilitate exchange of information across state management bodies. No stock assessments or management goals have been established, although general population trends are shared.

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Variety

White sturgeon

Acipenser transmontanus

Method

Farmed

Recirculating aquaculture system (RAS)

Location

Columbia River, US

Overall Rating

2.7 / 10

Summary

White sturgeon is one of the species that produces caviar, and as a result, has been in high commercial demand since the 1800’s. The US was the main producer of caviar until the late 19th century until populations declined. Stocks started to rebuild when management regulations were implemented and fishing pressure was lessened, although abundances still remain low. No commercial fishery exists in California, and in Washington and Oregon, 80% of the fishery is sports, and the remaining 20% is commercial. In 2010/11, landings averaged 115 mt compared to 173 mt in previous years.

Only a sports fishery exists for the white sturgeon in California as stocks are not as healthy as in Oregon and Washington. These latter states have a controlled commercial fishery. Stocks are relatively healthy but have not quite reached target levels.

In Washington and Oregon, where a commercial fishery exists, regulations control minimum length, and the catch of females is prohibited thereby preventing the catch of sturgeons for caviar. In an effort to recover stocks, management has focused on the impacts of dams which negatively affect the sturgeon habitat, and predation by seals.

Green sturgeon are a threatened species with high vulnerability to fishing pressure. They are sometimes mistakenly retained in the white sturgeon fishery due to misidentification. Gillnets do not usually come into contact with the substrate. If contact occurs, damage is minimal.

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Variety

Lake sturgeon

Acipenser fulvescens

Method

Wild

Large mesh bottom gillnet

Location

Quebec: St Lawrence River

Overall Rating

2.0 / 5

Summary

Lake sturgeon is one of the sturgeon species that produces caviar, and as a result, has historically been in high commercial demand. By the early 20th century, many sturgeon species were overexploited. Many have not recovered sufficiently for a viable commercial fishery. Lake sturgeon is available as a local product in Canada and as an imported species in the US. About 100-120 tonnes of lake sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon are produced per year.

Lake sturgeon are found in freshwater drainages throughout Canada. They are listed as a threatened species by COSEWIC. In the St Lawrence River, Lake sturgeon under 2m long are targeted. Lake sturgeon have life history characteristics that make them highly vulnerable to fishing pressure. This includes a long lifespan, a long time to reach maturity, and infrequent spawning. Abundance is unknown, and there is conflicting data regarding the population’s recovery from past overfishing.

Management of the sturgeon fisheries in Canada is strict. Regulations include gear restrictions, season closures, catch quotas, catch registration, size restrictions and enforcement. Populations are tagged and monitored in order to estimate stock size. It is unknown whether management is effective. The current population size is unknown but is thought to support the commercial fishery.

Due to the large size of the netting in bottom gillnets, very little bycatch is caught. Undersized individuals are occasionally caught but can be released. Gillnets do not usually come into contact with the substrate. If contact occurs, damage is minimal.

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Variety

Capelin, Smelt, smelt roe, masago

Mallotus villosus

Method

Wild

Trap net, Tuck seine

Location

Canada: Gulf of St Lawrence (4RST), Canada: North Atlantic (2J3KLPs)

Overall Rating

2.4 - 2.6 / 5

Summary

“Capelin are small pelagic schooling finfish, which inhabit the North Atlantic. In Canada, they are primarily landed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the Scotian Shelf. Stocks in these two regions are fished using different gears and are managed and assessed by different separate units.

Capelin have a low inherent vulnerability to fishing pressure as they are short‐lived, have a high fecundity, and mature quickly. Capelin abundance data are not available and population surveys are not conducted for this species in the North Atlantic. No evidence exists to suggest these stocks are being overfished, and landings are below catch limits in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Despite a lack of biological parameter data, capelin fisheries in both regions are managed by separate Integrated Fisheries Management Plans, which frequently evaluate multiple aspects the fisheries, including ecological, socioeconomic and institutional components. While by-catch mitigation strategies exist for each fleet, the tuck seine and trap net fisheries lack observer coverage and there is an overall lack of research into the impacts of these gears in terms of by-catch.

Capelin fisheries in both the North Atlantic and Gulf of St. Lawrence are only permitted to keep their targeted catch (i.e. capelin). Thus, all other by‐catch species are discarded. Some commonly caught by‐catch species (e.g. Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon) are of high concern as they are listed as threatened, endangered or of‐special‐concern.

Seine nets rarely contact the seabottom. Trap net gear does contact the substrate, but it has been scientifically show that this gear only affects habitats of low complexity with minimal impact. There are mitigation measures (e.g. mesh size restrictions, season closures, etc.) in place to further reduce ecosystem by trap gear.

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