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Caviar and Sushi Get Conservationism Attention from ODU's Carpenter

Kent Carpenter

Old Dominion University marine biologist Kent Carpenter, who has been promoting conservationism around the globe in recent years, has found himself this month at the center of widely publicized regulatory efforts that would affect the supply of caviar and sushi.

The actual focuses of Carpenter's efforts, of course, are sturgeon, the source of caviar, and Atlantic bluefin tuna, the source of some of the world's favorite sushi and sashimi.

On Thursday, March 18, news media worldwide reported on a warning from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that consumer demand for the world's best caviar is pushing sturgeon to the brink of extinction. A specific target of the warning is the beluga sturgeon, which is especially prized for its eggs.

Carpenter coordinates the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA), which is headquartered on the ODU campus and run by the IUCN and Conservation International.

He was a source for numerous articles about the sturgeon warning, including a widely distributed one from the Associated Press (AP). This article attributed to Carpenter the fact that evidence collected by scientists shows that measures to protect sturgeon have been insufficient in the face of overfishing, poaching and environmental damage. "This is alarming given their unique lineage and particular vulnerability," Carpenter was quoted as saying.

The AP article received prominent display in US Today.

The IUCN/GMSA publishes the Red List Assessment of endangered species, which this week named 18 types of sturgeon as being threatened with extinction. The groups said a complete ban on fishing for sturgeon in the Caspian Sea and elsewhere may be the only way to save the prehistoric-looking fish that have been around for 250 million years.

Such a move, according to the AP story, would seriously hurt the fishing industry in the Caspian region, which touches on Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Beluga caviar can bring up to $5,000 a pound.

The sturgeon warning was released while Carpenter was in Qatar as a IUCN/GMSA representative to the United Nation's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Bluefin tuna were the marquee fish species at this meeting, and Carpenter was on hand to offer expertise to the debate about a proposal to ban cross-border commerce in the fish.

But on Wednesday, March 17, the CITES delegation voted down the ban, despite support from the United States and the European Union.

Carpenter, a professor of biological sciences at ODU, has been in the news often in recent years for projects such as one seeking to preserve marine species in and around the Philippines and another about a major 2008 report describing the poor condition of one-third of the world's coral reefs.

This article was posted on: March 19, 2010

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