In the middle of the Austrian Alps, Stefan Astner inspects a rare albino sturgeon, which is exported at fantastic prices to the countries of the world for luxury tables.
He tells the worker that “the fish underwent an ultrasound to see if it would soon enter the stage of reproduction.” Ustner works in the town of Grodig, near Salzburg, Austria, where female fish are raised whose eggs are very expensive.
Walter Grule, director of this fish-breeding facility, slits the skin of a 16-year-old fish to extract light-colored eggs.
“The eggs are tenderer than black caviar,” he says while washing the grain. This grain, which weighs less than 600 grams, costs eight thousand euros, which is three times more expensive than black caviar, which is originally considered a luxury food.
Walter Gruhl asserts that “these eggs are among the most expensive foods in the world. They constitute only one percent of our total caviar production.”
Booming retail sales
In the adjacent hall, Walter’s daughter Alexandra is preparing about forty boxes “to be exported to Germany, Italy and Spain,” according to what the young woman reveals, reviewing the order slips.
There is no doubt that the Covid-19 crisis has negatively affected orders as a result of the closure of restaurants and luxury hotels, but retail sales have boomed in return.
New Year’s celebrations account for about 40% of the annual turnover. “People want to enjoy the present time,” says Groul, whose phone has been ringing to place orders.
The fish farmers are reluctant to reveal the names of their customers, many of whom live in Asia, Russia and the Middle East, as one of the secrets of success in the profession is discretion.
A luxury car brand had just contacted him and received an offer a while ago from an airline company that wanted to offer “Made in Austria” caviar to premium customers.
Walter Groul, who started his project with modest resources in 1981 with polar char and trout, was keen to distinguish itself from other fish farms in the world, by focusing on making a bright sturgeon without any pigmentation that reproduces in captivity.
In the vicinity of Hellbrunn Palace, which dates back to the Renaissance period, his farm, which now houses hundreds of fish, is located amid surveillance cameras and gratings to protect it from theft, as this valuable resource raises ambitions, and other facilities of this kind have been subjected to many theft in recent years.
From the age of the dinosaurs
The breeding of white or black sturgeon, which has been flourishing for a quarter of a century in China, Italy and France, especially as a result of the ban on fishing for these fish, matches the spirit of the age with its environmental considerations, allowing at the same time to preserve the species.
This type of fish may live up to 120 years and has been around since the age of dinosaurs, but it is on the verge of extinction from its natural habitat in Russia and Iran.
In the Alps, white caviar offers an exclusive alternativehttps://t.co/AtwUfvi4HO
???? Joe Klamar # AFP pic.twitter.com/Db7HJjTRwX
– AFP Photo (FPAFPphoto) December 29, 2020
Global production of sturgeon eggs in natural waters declined in the 1980s due to overfishing and pollution.
According to the most recent statistics available in this regard, compiled by the WorldStordjohn Conservation Society Sucity in 2018, 2,480 farms in 55 countries produce 415 tons of caviar per year.
Of these, 30 to 40 farms, including two or three in Austria, provide white caviar, according to academic Thomas Friedrich, who is coordinating a program in Vienna to boost the reproduction of the Danube sturgeon.
In the past, when a rare adult sturgeon was caught in the Caspian Sea, its eggs were offered exclusively to the Shah of Iran, Friedrich said.