As previously reported on this blog, the production of caviar is no longer a strictly Caspian region affair. Far from it. Sturgeon farms turning out the valuable fish eggs are now operating in South America, China and even in the desert of Abu Dhabi. We can now add South Korea to the list of countries that are part of the caviar club. Reports the New York Times:
When Han Sang-hun brought 200 sturgeons on a chartered plane from Russia in 1997, South Korean officials regarded the alien fish with a level of suspicion that the owner of a fish pond might reserve for an invasion of sharks. After all, the sturgeon, because of its prickly looks, is called the armored shark in Korean.
“They said if any of them escaped into the rivers, they would ruin the local ecosystem, attacking and devouring other fish,” Mr. Han recalled with a pained amusement. “The sturgeon is a slow-swimming fish with no teeth to speak of.”
When he finally extricated his fish from customs, he placed them at a riverside farm in this town 90 kilometers, or 56 miles, southeast of Seoul. For the next 12 years, Mr. Han spent $1 million a year feeding and looking after a stock that grew to 50,000 sturgeons, all children of the original 200. But he got little in return until 2009, when the fish were old enough to yield caviar — one of the world’s most expensive delicacies, selling for as much as $400 per ounce, or $14 a gram.
On a recent spring harvesting day, a farmhand gently massaged a sturgeon’s belly as Mr. Han traced a slender steel device up its egg-laying duct and popped a bulging egg sack inside. Roe poured out like so many black pearls into a bowl.
“This business is not for everyone. You have to invest for 10 to 15 years with no immediate return,” Mr. Han said in an interview at his farm, lamenting that 70 people who bought sturgeons from him to start their farms had all given up, asking him to buy back the fish.
For Mr. Han, the harvest was worth all the hassle, investment and waiting.
Korean caviar? For caviar lovers, who may see the price of the stuff go down now that there are more sources, this is good news. For the Caspian region's producers of the delicacy, who were used to having a monopoly on the luxury product, the sturgeons of Korea clearly represent something quite different.