Sturgeon farming in
recirculating aquaculture systems
For centuries Sturgeon Caviar has been considered a royal
delicacy. During the last 20 years Sturgeon stocks have been decimated,
especially in the former Soviet Union. At the same time Sturgeon
Caviar is becoming increasingly rare and prices are steadily rising.
The prime quality Caviar is Beluga Caviar. During the last 3 years
retail prices of Beluga Caviar have risen from roughly 2,000 $/kg
to over 3,500 $/kg.
During the last decades culture techniques have been developed
and for less than 10 years Caviar has been produced in farms on a commercial
scale. The long period until
first production, 5-8 years, has been a huge obstacle for investors.
At present there are about 30 sturgeon farms in the world that produce
roughly 20 tons Caviar per year. It is estimated that in 2010 the global
Caviar production will rise to 40-50
tons. At the same time fisheries production is expected to decrease from
80-120 tons at present to less than 30-40 tons in 2010. Global demand
depends on the price but varied in the past 2 centuries from 300-1200 tons
Thus, Sturgeon culture has the potential of a well-paying business with long term high revenues, but with a
long start-up period of 5-7 years.
The Sturgeon family includes 27 species that can be found
all over the Northern hemisphere, both in fresh, brackish and sea
water. The Sturgeons have been roaming the earth waters for at least
150 million years.
The shape of the body is fairly similar to that of sharks.
Along the back and sides the Sturgeon has rows of bony plates, the
scutes. Most species have a pointed nose and a set of barbells in front
of the mouth. Although most species eat fish, shellfish and crustaceans
they do not have teeth.
Sturgeons spawn in rivers. The eggs and larvae develop
in the river, but the juveniles normally move down stream to grow
up at sea. When they are mature they return to the spawning grounds
where they were born, just like salmon.
The well known species include the Beluga (Huso huso);
the Osetra (A. gueldentaedti) and the Sevruga (A. stellatus). The
Beluga is the largest of them all and record species were found larger
than 6 meters, weighing over 1.5 tons, reaching an age of 175 years.
Sturgeon is most famous for the Caviar. These are the
eggs of the female sturgeon, just before the final ripening. Eggs
are harvested from the fish, lightly salted and packed in jars or
cans for consumption. The “berries” are normally 2-3.5 mm in size and
colors range from black to grey to golden. The taste is often described
as nutty and creamy.
Less well known is Sturgeon meat. The meat is normally
smoked and has a texture more like meat than like fish. Other products
include the skins for production of leather and the swimbladder for
production of isinglass. Young Sturgeons also have a ready market as
ornamental fish for garden ponds.
Ninety percent of the Sturgeon is caught in the Caspian
Sea and it’s rivers. Russia and Iran are the major producers, but
fisheries production is rapidly going down. The main causes are the
pollution caused by the oil industry; factories along the rivers and
the agriculture. Other problems include the obstruction of spawning
grounds by hydrodams (Russia) and extensive poaching after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Sturgeon has been cultured for at least 50 years, mainly
in the Soviet Union for restocking of the waters with juvenile fish.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union this production has gone down
rapidly due to lack of funds.
Serious aquaculture projects
started about 15 years ago, especially in France, Italy and the
USA (California). Presently there are 40 farm projects in about
20 countries. Between those there are about 10 projects that target
or achieved caviar productions of 2-6 tons per year.
The most interesting
Sturgeon species require culture temperatures in the range of 18-26
ºC and fresh or brackish water.
The normal culture system is the flow through system.
The Sturgeons are housed in tanks or raceways that are continuously
provided with clean water from a river, spring or well. Presently
several farms are using recirculation technology, whereby the culture water is continuously cleaned by
filters and recycled. The advantage of this technology is that the
farmer can control and manipulate the culture environment.
Most farms are intensive farms; the fish are kept in high
densities to reduce the farm size and to increase control over the
Sturgeon culture prospects
Sturgeon culture is high-tech and capital intensive business
with a long start-up time. The Sturgeon products are highly valued
with a large gap between supply and demand and a minimum number of competitors.
Sturgeon project options
A Sturgeon farm will only
give revenues after about 2-3 years (males for meat production) with
the major cash flow starting afer 6-8 years (Caviar). High quality management
and farm equipment are needed to minimize the culture risks and maximize
output. These are available but at a cost. Thus, a farm must have a
minimum production size to reduce the fixed cost part of the production
cost. In general a farm operation should target a Caviar production of
at least 5 tons per year. Presently the most prospective Sturgeon species
include the Siberian Sturgeon (Acipenser baeri); the Russian Sturgeon
(A. gueldenstaedti); the Beluga (Huso huso) and the White Sturgeon
For an economical successful farm it is suggested to target a production
of 5 tons Caviar per year. The idea is to start with the Siberian
Sturgeon because they are readily available, but to switch to Osetra
or Beluga whenever possible.
Sturgeon project description
An intensive sturgeon farm must include a broodstock unit;
a hatchery/nursery and a grow-out system. These culture systems are
housed in fixed buildings (the first 2 phases) and greenhouses (grow-out).
Each system is split up in several stand alone units to reduce disease
risks and has it’s own filtration system. Besides the systems there
are shared facilities that include offices; a generator/electrical
room; food store; workshop and processing
and storage units for the products.
When in full production
the farm will house roughly 250-300 tons of Sturgeon. The annual production
will include 5 tons of Caviar and 75 tons of fish for production
of meat, leather and swimbladder, as well as 15.000-20.000 juveniles
for the ornamental fish market.
The covered farm area will be approximately 12.000 m2,
of which 10.000 m2 is formed by greenhouses. To run the farm a good
manager is needed, as well as 10 men, including 4 skilled workers.
The annual food use is about 200 tons and energy uptake is in the order
of 200 kW-year. Every year about 40.000 fingerlings must be produced.
Sturgeon project feasibility
Project feasibility strongly depends on the local
conditions. Farm investment can range from USD 2-4 million. Production cost,
excluding capital cost, can range from USD 400.000 to over USD 800.000 per
year. Wholesale prices of Caviar and meat are presently in the order of 400-450
and 6-8 USD/kg respectively. Thus, once production has stabilized annual
revenues can be expected in the order of USD 2.45 to 2.85 million.
In case of a long-term, capital intensive project as described
above proper preparation is a must. We have a team of dedicated experts
who can guide you successfully through this process.
For more information
please contact us at the address listed below.