Black Gold: Mote Caviar

Inside the Florida Marine Laboratory that Sustainably Farms Siberian Sturgeon

Freshly harvested Siberian sturgeon caviar is meticulously cleaned, salted, measured and preserved as photographer Mark Mahaney examines the processing of one of the most luxurious edibles on the planet. A product of the sturgeon program at the non-profit Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, the local caviar has been sourced to fine restaurants including Napa Valley’s three-Michelin-starred Meadow Wood and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. “We are dealing with some of the top palates on the planet and we have to provide these chefs with a consistently high quality product,” says Seth Cripe, founder and co-owner of Anna Maria Fish Company, a leading distributor of Mote’s caviar. “We are there tasting every fish to make sure each one is perfect. Besides, eating caviar never really gets old.” Mote’s Siberian sturgeon project began in 1998 as a means of protecting the endangered wild sturgeon population, and the laboratory uses caviar production to generate funds for further research in aquaculture. Jim Michaels, manager and resident sturgeon whisperer, breaks down some caviar facts and figures.

The source:
30,000+ females from seven year-differentiated classes of fish.

Weight issues:
The average female weighs about 11kg.

The goods:
Each female produces about 8.6% of her weight in finished caviar. An average fish will produce about 28,000 eggs, which is approximately 930g.

Economy of scale:
Mote started producing caviar in 2006, and each subsequent year production has increased—from a modest 77kg in 2006, to 1.5 metric tons in 2011, which equates to approximately 45,000,000 eggs. Mote expects to produce over 2 metric tons in 2012.

Size matters:
Eggs range from 2.4-2.6 mm in diameter.

Cash flow:
Mote’s caviar currently fetches a market price ranging from $1,584 per kilo, at the low end of the range, to about $4,200 per kilo at the high end. Minimum purchase is usually one ounce, and there are 35.2 ounces in a kilo so…

Currency exchange: 
One ounce = $45 to $119.

Sex education:
Caviar is non-ovulated, non-fertilized eggs that have been preserved by salt. They are not the same as fertilized eggs that will hatch and produce baby sturgeon (but from a distance they look similar). Male sturgeons are harvested weekly for sales to "white tablecloth" restaurants.

Grade book:
Caviar comes in three classes, starting with the finest: Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga. It is judged on size, flavor, firmness and color.

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Conversations (1)

  • Seraphima Bogomolova
    Hmm, I think fascination with black caviar is overrated, I love it but in very small quantities, cause it has very strong taste, how much of it one can it anyway? I ate a lot of it in the former Soviet Union...

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