Yorkshire fish-lovers set up first ethical sturgeon caviar firm – The Guardian

It is better known for its parkin cake, rhubarb and Sunday roast puddings, but one fishery is hoping to add to Yorkshire’s culinary credentials as what it claims is the world’s first producer of ethically sourced sturgeon caviar, using a technique that does not kill the fish in the process.

KC Caviar, based in Leeds, was set up by the fish enthusiasts John Addey, 63, and his son Mark, 37, in an effort to help save the world’s depleting population of sturgeon.

Mark, a trained civil engineer, had the idea of setting up a sturgeon farm – where the fish could be bred before retiring to lakes across Europe – about six years ago.

The company hopes to cover its costs using a new method of extracting fish eggs, which are salt-cured to produce the rare delicacy, without harming the fish. It expects to produce its first batch of “ethical” caviar next Tuesday.

“Mark has always been into dinosaurs and it is said that sturgeon swam with dinosaurs,” said his father, who was previously involved in the ornamental fish industry. “He got really concerned that the sturgeon were going to be wiped out just as the dinosaurs disappeared.”

Sturgeon are thought to have inhabited Earth for hundreds of millions of years, but are now vulnerable to overfishing and are, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, “more critically endangered than any other group of species”.

KC Caviar has obtained a licence to practice a new technique of inducing roe (or fish eggs) from sturgeon, patented by Prof Angela Koehler of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany.

The process involves following a sturgeon’s natural egg production cycle, monitoring progress using ultrasound scans, before injecting the fish with a protein that induces ovulation. When the eggs are ready, they can be pumped from the belly with gentle massaging. This process can be repeated roughly every 15 months throughout a sturgeon’s lifetime, which may last decades.

“Once we think we have had our money’s worth out of a particular fish and that it’s been a good servant to us, we will release them to have their retirement into a lake,” said John. Some of the fish will retire to a lake owned by the Addey family in Yorkshire, while the father and son are in the process of arranging for some of the smaller fish to take their retirement in lakes in eastern Europe.

The traditional commercial method of collecting caviar involves stunning the fish before removing the ovaries. Another method, which also claims not to kill the fish, involves extracting the eggs in a caesarean-type operation before stitching the stomach back together. However, many fish do not survive the procedure.

John said the new humane method of collecting the delicacy had no impact on its taste. “The taste depends on what the fish have been eating and the water they have been kept in. There are lots of reasons why caviar can have a different taste, but if we have done our job right [our caviar] should taste the same as the others.”

Each of the fish is given a name and a QR code, so customers can find out exactly which animal their caviar came from. One of the farm’s sturgeon, described by John as a “beautiful little fish”, is called Nicola after the first minister of Scotland.

The farm has 82 large females, between 1.2 and 1.4 metres (4ft-4.5ft) long, but plans to have a population of 500 by the end of the year. The fish live in several large insulated polytunnels which are provided with clear spring water by a nearby stream that runs through 28 stock holding tanks.

The sturgeon farm has yet to make a profit, but John said there seemed to be a lot of interest in the idea. “We think we have got a wholesaler that will take about 70% of the caviar and that will sell it to restaurants and connoisseurs in London.

“We have had a lot of interest on our website with people saying they want to know how to buy the caviar, but that’s nothing to do with the caviar. It’s because they are interested in saving the sturgeon.”

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