food / travel

Salmon Roe Woe In Russia Could Spark Caviar Trade War

To satisfy Russian apetites, frozen shipments of the low-end *red caviar* have come in from Alaska. Not all are pleased.

Russia's red caviar industry is worth billions of dollars
Russia's red caviar industry is worth billions of dollars
Cvetlana Mentyokova

MOSCOW — In Russia, caviar is not just a snack for the elite. That would be black caviar, which can cost thousands of dollars per pound, and comes from sturgeon. Salmon roe, also called red caviar, is much cheaper and is a favorite of ordinary Russians, particularly on special occasions — making the production of red caviar a billion dollar industry in Russia.

Last summer the cost of red caviar jumped by 70%, largely because of a bad start to the salmon season in eastern Russia. That price has more or less returned to normal (about $50 per kilo) thanks in part to a large import of frozen red caviar from Alaska. That is good for consumers, but it might be an ominous sign for Russian fisherman and processors, who produce between 11,000 and 13,000 tons of red caviar annually.

Between 40% and 60% of the red caviar in Russia comes from fisheries in the far eastern part of the country, on the Pacific Ocean. When the fishing season there began poorly, prices jumped. Since then, though, “around 15,000 to 16,000 tons of red caviar have been released in the market, enough to satisfy internal demand,” explains Aleksander Savelev, press secretary for the Russian Federal Fisheries Agency. The major caviar processors say that the main reason for the drop in prices is an increase in the amount of frozen red caviar from the United States.

According to Federal Customs Service data, nearly 1,500 tons of frozen caviar had been imported to Russia as of August, worth more than $13 million. At customs, 89% of the caviar was declared at $7 to $9 per kilo, significantly less than the average price in Russia.

“In Moscow, this caviar from Alaska is being sold at wholesale prices of between $25 and $28,” Savelev explains. “The price given at customs is based on an assumption that this is last year’s caviar, because freshly harvested caviar is being sold at between $18 to $25 per kilo at auctions. Or the importers lowered the real value, and the government lost several million dollars in customs duties.”

Much cheaper than black caviar — Photo: Puschinka

In Alaska, just like in Russia, the fishing season started poorly, but by the end of the season catches were back to normal. In Alaska alone, the catch amounted to 600,000 tons of Coho salmon, which will produce 24,000 tons of red caviar.

“Since most people in the U.S. aren’t interested in red caviar, most of that will be exported, including to Russia,” says Mikhail Glubokovskii, the director of the Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography. That means that the price of caviar could drop much lower than current levels, which would make it difficult for both the fishermen and the processors to make a profit.

Not all caviar problems come from Alaska. Experts in the caviar market believe that caviar shortages and price fluctuations are just as much a result of conflicts between caviar processors on the eastern coast and those in central Russia near the Caspian Sea, which has been the historical center of caviar production. As catches increased on the Kamchatka Peninsula and in the Sakhalin region, more processors were established on the east coast — leaving the processors near the Caspian Sea with no place to get fresh salmon roe and changing the industry's power dynamics. “It used to be that around 30% of the Pacific fishermen were forced to sell their catch to processors in the European part of Russia, and the processors set the prices. Now the Pacific fishermen dictate the terms of the transaction,” says one expert.

Statistics support that observation. In 2010-2011 the Caspian Sea catch contributed about 4,000 tons to the raw caviar market. In 2012, that number dropped to 1,500 tons. “Processors in Central Russia have no choice but to buy caviar from abroad, especially at a low price,” one industry representative says. “Based on the amount of the imports, they appear to be compensating for the lack of raw materials.”

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

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• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

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• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

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🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

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📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

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Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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