In a previous post about a new sturgeon farming operation in the unlikely locale of Abu Dhabi, this blog asked "if you build it, will they spawn?" Well, according to a new article in the New York Times, the answer to that question seems to be "and how!," especially if the fish are housed in what the story describes as "the piscine version of five-star luxury."
From the Times:
From hatchery to harvest, the pricey fish are coddled in the piscine version of five-star luxury. Food robots dispatch brine shrimp for the newly hatched and dry feed for the older fish at synchronized times. Water in the tanks is recycled through a triple-filtration system at least 20 times a day.
A computerized monitoring system makes sure temperatures remain between 59 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (15 and 20 degrees Celsius), depending on where the fish is in its life cycle. Should anything go awry, a control room in Germany is alerted and text alerts immediately appear on the cell phones of those on shift in Abu Dhabi.
“If you don’t have good fish, they will not give you anything,” said Muhaned Abu Awad, the plant’s production manager. “You have to pamper the fish.”
Abu Dhabi’s taste for caviar has grown alongside its economic prowess.
While Russian and other European expatriates are the biggest customers locally, Emiratis and other Gulf residents are increasingly seeking out the roe, which can cost as much as $9 a gram, as a symbol of their wealth.
Royal Caviar also sees its location in the Gulf as a strategic advantage in servicing the booming appetites for the newly wealthy in Far East markets, especially those in China.
Demand for the culinary delicacy is estimated to be 400 tons, or about 360 metric tons, a year, while current supply is topping at 120 tons, according to Royal Caviar. The move to limit the export of the over-fished wild sturgeon from the Caspian Sea in 2006 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has created business opportunities for investors in sturgeon farms, even those in the desert.
People associate caviar with an affluent lifestyle, said Pierre El Hakim, marketing manager of Caviar Court, a sturgeon farm in neighboring Saudi Arabia. “They buy it to show off, as a fancy and expensive food item on their tables,” he added.