Sterling Caviar recently hosted a tour of their sturgeon farm and caviar processing facility in Elverta, California for an audience of state legislative and agency officials, accompanied by post-graduate Fellows from the California Sea Grant Program. Organized by the Office of the State Aquaculture Coordinator and the California Aquaculture Association, participants learned about this local success story and the long-term commitment required of farm-raising caviar, which takes an average of 10 years to yield its crop.
Sacramento has grown to become the Caviar Capital of America, supplying some 80 percent of the nation’s supply from a handful of local farms. The 30 year, pioneering effort to develop sturgeon farming had its global beginning at UC Davis, with the help of a research team built around Russian defector, Dr. Sergei Doroshov, known locally as the grandfather of sturgeon farming. The success has been a collaborative effort built on advances in academic research, combined with a flexible and supportive regulatory environment, and the innovations and patience of private industry investment. For instance, the acquisition of broodstock from the wild to begin the process was initially an illegal prospect until rules could be established to lawfully make such collections. Ownership of the offspring spawned by farmers was another legality needing regulatory clarification. Many such challenges face aquaculture, which has been developing rapidly in many countries of the world, leaving California and the US behind, despite the many innovations first developed here. Tour participants were invited to picture how such long-term vision might be applied to other opportunities to expand aquaculture in California, including the marine offshore environment. The indoor facility in Elverta recirculates its water repeatedly before discharging a portion to neighboring wetland habitat provided specifically for endangered species, then continuing on to further irrigate neighboring farm crops and recharge groundwater supplies. Tanks ranging in size from five- to 100 feet in diameter accommodate sturgeon through their entire life cycle and are supported by automated filtration, feeding, oxygenation, and process monitoring systems. Production manager and tour guide for the day, Bobby Renschler, explained that raising sturgeon takes an attentive staff of farm technicians who fully understand the stakes of maintaining the good health and nutrition of such a long-lived animal. There is no margin for error with a 10 year crop, making their backup systems and constant diligence vitally important.