A caviar farm in the desert

ABU DHABI — Etihad has carried animals and other live wildlife before, but happy, healthy sturgeon was a novelty for the airline’s cargo. The 22 adult sturgeon fish were flown from Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi not for a marine show or on individual request, but to start work at the first and hard-to-imagine desert caviar farm.


Silvia Radan

Published: Thu 7 Apr 2011, 11:57 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:16 AM

For the past few years, UAE’s Bin Salem Holding and Germany’s United Food Technologies (UFT) — which is already producing caviar from farm-bred sturgeon fish — have been building the world’s biggest caviar factory just outside the capital, in the emirate’s desert.

“Etihad is proud of its reputation of carrying precious cargo and this now includes sturgeon fish which are on the list of global endangered species,” said Roy Kinnear, Etihad Airways’ senior vice president cargo.

The transport took place overnight in one of Etihad’s new A330-200 freighter aircraft, which provides state-of-the-art temperature control technology, to transport the endangered species. Each sturgeon was transported in a specially designed container in a temperature-controlled environment, which was always between 10 and 15 degrees centigrade. It took a lot of coordination and teamwork, but all 22 sturgeons arrived safe and healthy.

The size of 10 football fields, the new 60,000 square metres caviar farm is capable of producing 32 tonnes of caviar annually. According to Bin Salem’s calculations, in UAE alone caviar demand is estimated at 35 tonnes.

The news couldn’t be better for the gourmand cuisine industry since caviar demand is on the rise globally, while the sturgeon fish that produce it are gravely endangered. Around 90 per cent of the world’s caviar comes from the Caspian Sea, the main ‘traditional’ caviar producers being Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia. Yet, nowadays these countries can hardly harvest enough caviar for their own national demand.

Because of their long reproductive cycle, long migrations, and sensitivity to environmental conditions, many species are under severe threat from poaching, water pollution and the increasing demand for oil in the Caspian. According to international expert reports, over 85 per cent of sturgeon species are classified at risk of extinction, making them more critically endangered than any other group of species.

As a result, the production of wild caviar has decreased from 2,000 tons in late 1980s to 400 tons in late 1990s and to a minimal 11 tons annually at present. Even so, a return to the levels of earlier populations is unlikely.

Farmed sturgeon is now the answer for these highly demanded luxurious food and European factories like UFT have become increasingly good in the past decade at farmed caviar.

According to previous reports by UFT, Abu Dhabi’s factory is also planning an annual production of 450 tonnes of sturgeon, apart from caviar. Even farming of endangered local hamour is being considered in the near future.


More news from