It is better known for its parkin cake, rhubarb and Sunday roast puddings, but one fishery is hoping to add to Yorkshire’s culinary credentials as the world’s first producer of ethically sourced sturgeon caviar, using a technique that does not kill the fish in the process.
KC Caviar, based in Leeds, was set up by the fish enthusiasts John Addey, 63, and his son Mark Addey, 37, in a bid to help save the world’s depleting population of sturgeon.
Mark, a trained civil engineer, had the idea of setting up a sturgeon farm – where the fish could be bred before retiring to lakes across Europe – around six years ago.
The company hopes to cover its costs using a new method of extracting fish eggs, which are salt-cured to produce the rare delicacy, without harming the fish and expects to produce its first batch of “ethical” caviar next Tuesday.
“Mark has always been into dinosaurs and it is said that sturgeon swam with dinosaurs,” says John, who was previously involved in the ornamental fish industry. “He got really concerned that the sturgeon were going to be wiped out just as the dinosaurs disappeared.”
Sturgeon are thought to have inhabited Earth for hundreds of millions of years, but are now vulnerable to overfishing and are, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, “more critically endangered than any other group of species”.
KC Caviar is the only company to have obtained a licence to practice a new technique of inducing roe (or fish eggs) from sturgeon, patented by the German Prof Angela Koehler of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven.
The process involves following a sturgeon’s natural egg production cycle, monitoring progress using ultrasound scans, before injecting the fish with a protein that induces ovulation. When the eggs are ready, they can be pumped from the belly with gentle massaging. This process can be repeated roughly every 15 months throughout a sturgeon’s lifetime, which may last decades.
“Once we think we have had our money’s worth out of a particular fish and that it’s been a good servant to us, we will release them to have their retirement into a lake,” says John. Some of the fish will retire to a lake owned by the Addey family in Yorkshire, while the father and son are in the process of arranging for some of the smaller fish to take their retirement in lakes in eastern Europe.
The traditional commercial method of collecting caviar involves stunning the fish before removing the ovaries. Another method, which also claims not to kill the fish, involves extracting the eggs in a caesarean-type operation before stitching the stomach back together. However, many fish do not survive the procedure.
John says the new humane method of collecting the delicacy has no impact on its taste. “The taste depends on what the fish have been eating and the water they have been kept in,” he says. “There are lots of reasons why caviar can have a different taste, but if we have done our job right [our caviar] should taste the same as the others.”
Each of the fish is given a name and a QR code, so customers can find out exactly which animal their caviar came from. One of the farm’s sturgeon, described by John as a “beautiful little fish”, is called Nicola after the first minister of Scotland.
The farm currently has 82 large females, between 1.2 and 1.4 metres (4ft-4.5ft) long, but plans to have a population of 500 by the end of the year. The fish live in several large insulated polytunnels which are provided with clear spring water by a nearby stream that runs through 28 stock holding tanks.
The sturgeon farm is yet to make a profit, but John says there seems to be a lot of interest in the idea. “We think we have got a wholesaler that will take about 70% of the caviar and that will sell it to restaurants and connoisseurs in London,” says John.
“We have had a lot of interest on our website with people saying they want to know how to buy the caviar, but that’s nothing to do with the caviar,” says John. “It’s because they are interested in saving the sturgeon.”
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