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How a sturgeon massage can produce caviar without killing the fish

New "correct" caviar doesn't involve killing the fish during extraction.
New “correct” caviar doesn’t involve killing the fish during extraction.
(Gary Friedman)

Caviar is one of the most prized foods in the world, but it’s far from sustainable. German marine biologist Angela Kohler is looking to change that with a new form of sustainable caviar.

Kohler has developed a way to extract caviar from a fish without killing it. Most caviar comes from sturgeon, a fish that is typically raised for 10 years or more before it is killed to take its roe. Sturgeon happens to be listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species as the most threatened group of animals.

Kohler has patented a way to massage the eggs out of the sturgeon. First, ultrasound is used to view the eggs. A signaling protein is then given to the fish days before the eggs are ready to be harvested to induce labor.

The eggs are then massaged out of the belly. This allows sturgeon farmers to reuse the same fish to harvest roe multiple times during their expected 60- to 120-year lifetime. The extracted eggs are then put through a calcium-water solution to prepare them to be salted and packed for consumption.

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Kohler used the technique at a contained sturgeon farm in Germany to produce cruelty-free caviar, also known as “no-kill” and “correct” caviar. They produced 1,100 pounds in 2013.

The sustainable caviar is being marketed under the name Vivace for $125 an ounce. It’s on the menu at the recently opened California Caviar Co. retail and tasting facility in Sausalito.

But some aren’t impressed with the technique.

“It was gross,” Geno Evans, owner of Anastasia Gold Caviar in Florida told NPR. Evans tried to extract caviar without killing the fish, but found it was too soft. “It wasn’t caviar,” he said.

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There is currently one available variety of Vivace, including caviar taken from Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii).

[This post has been updated May 12, 1:29 p.m.: A previous version of this post stated there were three available varieties of Vivace. There is only one, with the possibility of more in the future. Also Geno Evans was commenting on the technique, not the taste of the caviar.]

Want more food news? Follow me on Twitter: @Jenn_Harris_

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