Red-tape sparks sturgeon cull

More than 4,000 farm-grown sturgeon have been euthanized in New Brunswick because US regulators will not differentiate between farmed and wild sources.

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Late last month the province of New Brunswick stepped in at Breviro Caviar’s Pennfield operation due to animal welfare concerns.

Breviro offers a rare caviar from a species of St John River shortnose sturgeon that are raised in land-based systems, but due to a US ruling in late 2015 denying access for the lucrative caviar into key American markets, the company has been in financial dire straits - hence the fact the fish have been neglected.

Shortnose sturgeon is considered an endangered species in the US, and there is a prohibition of any product from the fish being marketed in the country - a rule that does not distinguish between wild and farm-raised fish.

The company tried to have that restriction lifted, arguing the St John River variety raised by Breviro is a unique population that is both healthy and stable. However, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has determined it is not a unique population and the restriction on the sale of caviar from shortnose sturgeon remains in effect.

Ministerial concerns

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Rick Doucet, said the fish had been neglected, that some were beyond saving, and that province couldn’t sell the fish due to legal restrictions.

"Basically when the fish are left alone for any period of time, you know, something needs to be done," said Doucet.

The incident is all the more ridiculous given that, since 2011, Breviro has received a total of $300,000 from ACOA, a $500,000 investment from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and $135,000 from the provincial government.

Of the 4,102 fish on-site, 70 were spared and sent to the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St Andrews, NB.

At another location in Charlo, NB, the fish are being monitored and fed by the province, while another company, Acadian Sturgeon, has confirmed they are in talks to take ownership of the fish.

Cornel Ceapa, the CEO of Acadian, whose company markets both sturgeon caviar and sturgeon meat, said he is looking to buy them.

"I'll do anything I can to save the fish," said Ceapa. "It's very complex. We're in the middle of negotiations."