These ancient living fish fossils are found in the Caspian Sea. Valued throughout the world by connoisseurs for their superior quality caviar, poaching is out of control due to excessive demand and high prices paid for the Sturgeons' "pearl-like" caviar.
Most sturgeon species are endangered, having been overfished nearly to extinction in pursuit of their caviar. Caviar is a prized delicacy that can fetch more than $100 an ounce, and the Caspian Sea is home to beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), whose eggs are considered to be among the finest in the world. Despite evidence that beluga sturgeon stocks have declined by a staggering 90 percent in the past 20 years, CITES' 2008 export quotas again permit the fish and their eggs to be harvested. The sturgeon quota system was established to ensure that trade in sturgeon products would only be permitted from sustainable fisheries, but much evidence indicates the quotas do not reflect the urgent need for protection and the rampant illegal harvest and trade.