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Why is non-sturgeon fish roe cheaper than true caviar?

Caviar has a reputation for being an expensive product. Although that may hold true for certain types of salted fish roe, there are a growing number of less costly sturgeon caviar alternatives in the market today. While these non-sturgeon roes are often processed and labeled similarly to true caviar, they remain a much more affordable product because of their greater abundance and diversity in the wild, as well as their quicker development and lower cost when being farmed.

Salted fish roes from non-sturgeon species and others considered caviar "substitutes" do almost always cost less than their sturgeon counterparts. The first reason for the gap in pricing is directly related to the biological differences between sturgeon and other marine animals:

  • Sturgeon grow a lot slower than fish such as trout and salmon. Many of the species that produce popular red caviar can reach sexual maturity and produce roe in 2 years of life or less, four times faster than the average for a sturgeon.
  • Many of the popular caviar-producing sturgeon can only thrive in select regions of the world. Since their natural habitats are limited, wild sturgeon species suffer more from pollution and habitat destruction than other fish caught for roe.
  • Most of the non-sturgeon species farmed for caviar are smaller in size than sturgeon, requiring less feed and space for growing. It not only takes less time for farmers to produce non-sturgeon caviar but costs less as well.

The characteristics of the sturgeon species cause it to be more costly to raise on aqua farms and harder to locate in the wild. Additionally, man-kind has nearly fished wild sturgeon populations to extinction, forcing harsher government regulation on the trade of both wild and farmed sturgeon than those on non-sturgeon species. 

In our country, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife places numerous restrictions and regulations on the fishing and farming of sturgeon, even banning the caviar from certain species entirely. Outside of sturgeon and paddlefish, no such regulations exist on other species of fish caught or raised for their roe.

Since sturgeons are more rare and precious than most other species, their eggs are considered far more valuable. Thus, with the higher prices and harsher regulation of traditional caviar, other salted fish roes and caviar substitutes have become abundant in the marketplace due to their affordable nature. 

black caviar and red caviar