A French caviar producer in southwestern France says it's employing painstaking methods to farm sturgeons and harvest their eggs, in order to justify high prices as the industry sees a bump in stocks and new competition. Sonia Legg reports.
It's fishing season at Sturgeon's aquaculture farm in France. By the end of February, 7 - 8,000 of the 45,000 fish here will be selected for their eggs. The fish may not be wild but at this farm - one of seven run by the firm - they pride themselves on quality. (SOUNDBITE) (French) STURGEON'S PRODUCTION DIRECTOR THIERRY MOUNIER SAYING: "In the ultrasound, we can see how developed the eggs are, we check their size and how firm they are, making sure they're developed enough to produce caviar." Wild sturgeon fishing was banned in the Caspian Sea in 2008. Since then the number of producers has doubled to around 109. France is the third largest producer behind China and Italy. And the growth has attracted interest from private and institutional investors. (SOUNDBITE) (French) STURIA'S CHIEF-EXECUTIVE-OFFICER LAURENT DULAU SAYING: "We want to be the cream of the crop as far as caviar is concerned. We don't follow the market price. We innovate to keep quality high." Sturgeon will produce around 12 tonnes of caviar this year, generating around 9 million euros in sales. 15-grams of their best eggs costs 49 euros. But there are plenty of jars on sale for less than that. One French supermarket is selling caviar for under 10 euros. Three quarters of the French producers are now trying to make their product a protected brand. But wholesale prices have halved over the past 5 years - black gold perhaps no longer the luxury item it once was.