Caviar History: Part I

 

Sturgeon are an ancient family. Going back 245 million years, their fossil record predates most dinosaurs. They have changed little since that time. They live at a stately pace, well-suited to monstrous fish with sharp armor and no natural predators. Wild individuals can live over a century, and often do not reproduce until fifteen to twenty years of age.

The sedate rhythm that has served sturgeon well for hundreds of millions of years is also their greatest vulnerability today. Recovering from overfishing takes decades.

Europe’s rivers began to feel the strain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as imperial courts grew fantastically wealthy. They devoured luxuries like caviar at high volume. Sturgeon soon became scarce at home, and Europe’s connoisseurs turned their hungry eyes to America.

North America’s eastern seaboard teemed with wild game and fish. Spawning sturgeon in Virginia’s James River were said to run so thick, one could cross the river on their backs. Early colonists were not skilled farmers, and they depended on exports to Europe- including caviar- to support themselves. Until that time, caviar had been shipped in leaky wooden casks; but this proved impossible in the new deep-ocean trade. It is thanks to the American caviar fisheries that modern lacquered tins and glass jars came to be used. These made it possible to use a full cold aging process and develop the full, rich flavors caviar is renowned for today.

But river by river, just like in ravenous Europe, sturgeon populations in North America collapsed. By the late nineteenth century they were nearly gone. Fisherman closed up shop, and North America’s centuries of contributions to caviar were forgotten.

Persephone is proud take part in the sustainable rebirth of caviar's American legacy. Always innovative, we build on that legacy today by growing fish in a way that respects the earth, and working to rebuild our wild sturgeon runs.