Iranian traders hope privatisation will bring "caviar
By Jean Michel Cadiot
TEHRAN, Aug 31 (AFP) - Caviar, for long a key part of Iranian feasts,
has become out of reach even for wealthy Iranians, but traders are pinning
their hopes on privatisation to bring about a renaissance.
"There is no solution other than the privatisation that the government
has accepted. And we will be able to sell to the Americans who have ended
their embargo on this product," explained businessman Behrouz Neshati,
who travels frequently to Britain and the United States.
"I believe in its renaissance," said Neshati, who spent his
childhood on the edge of the Caspian Sea where caviar is produced. "Why
not revive those feasts of our childhood with caviar."
Jamshid Salimi, the only provider of the luxury food produced from the
eggs of the sturgeon fish in the chic Mirdamad Avenue area of Tehran, does
not sell more than five or six kilos (11 or 13 pounds) of caviar per month.
"Caviar is going through a difficult period, mainly because of
the pollution of the Caspian . Private companies could organise the protection
of the environment more effectively, protect the sturgeons," he said.
"Our prices are prohibitive," Salimi complained. "We
have practically only foreigners as clients -- French, Italians, but also
Russians who love Iranian caviar."
"But caviar is no longer part of the meal at family celebrations.
For weddings, it is unthinkable, as Iranians like to invite dozens or even
hundreds of guests.
"It no longer features anywhere outside private feasts, nearly
always organised by foreigners," he told AFP.
Ikra sevruga is the least expensive well-known brand at 3.4 million
rials (430 dollars) per kilo. As for top of the range Beluga, that can
be as much as 1,300 dollars.
"Our clients are also some of the very few luxury restaurants,"
His shop, like only seven others offering caviar in Tehran despite its
large population of more than 10 million people, only deals with the Shilat
fisheries company, which has a monopoly on fishing, marketing, organisation
of trade from the Caspian , the breeding of sturgeons and export.
Production has dropped sharply, going from 300 tonnes in 1990 to around
100 tonnes today, 80 percent of which is headed for export, mainly to Germany,
France, Britain and Japan.
Furthermore, a "parallel market" competes with the official
Plans to privatise Iran 's caviar industry, which was a state monopoly
even in the days of the Shah, were announced Thursday by Khodakaram Jalali,
the director-general of Shilat.
It aims to "encourage private sector activity in this area, and
will supply sturgeons to interested companies," Jalali said.
There had been a "major increase in the price of caviar,"
rising in just one year from 390 to 680 dollars for an average kilo, he
"Those private companies that are interested will be able to produce
and export caviar. Those in the public sector will be able to get bank
help when they present their projects," Jalali added without providing
As well as pollution caused by the increasing drilling for oil in the
Caspian , the drop in caviar production is due to illegal fishing by the
nations which emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This year, Iran has released 25 million young sturgeon into this inland
sea and continues to ban fishing with fine mesh nets to protect the youngest
Iran is the only country to rear in this manner, which is a condition
for the survival of caviar.