Who says the U.N. is inefficient?
Just three months after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered a ban on caviar imports from Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, the U.N. body responsible for implementing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, has instituted a worldwide ban of its own.
Actually, that's not fair. The differences between the CITES ruling and that of the fish and wildlife service lay not just in their timing, but also in their extent. Whereas the fish and wildlife service banned the import of beluga caviar from a few countries bordering the Caspian Sea, CITES has ordered a worldwide ban on all exports of "black" caviar. As a fan of both red and black caviar, I have a personal interest in this issue. And so, disappointed by the consistent vagueness in the reports filed by reporters for the BBC, Telegraph, and Bloomberg, I did a bit more digging to learn precisely to which varieties of "black" caviar the ban applies.
According to the press advisory published by CITES, the new ban, although temporary, is far-reaching. It covers "all sturgeon species." In connoisseur's terms, that means that salmon caviar, also know as "red," still gets the green light for export. Beluga, and the somewhat less expensive sevruga and osetrina varieties, however, are now off-limits for legal trade among nations.
The reason for the CITES ban mirrors the earlier fish and wildlife service restriction on beluga imports: that exporting companies have failed to submit (to both bodies) documentation that "demonstrate[s] that their proposed catch and export quotas reflect current population trends and are sustainable." Presumably, the ban will remain in effect until the exporting nations prove that they are taking adequate measures to keep the sturgeon from going extinct.
As noted in my previous column on the fish and wildlife service ban, the curtailment of the caviar trade is unlikely to directly affect many companies of interest to U.S. investors. Except for United Specialties, which is listed on the pink sheets, caviar traders such as Sustainable Seafoods and Petrossian are all privately owned. That said, Tuesday's announcement does provide yet another reason to applaud the foresight and environmentally friendly stance of Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick and gourmet grocer Whole Foods
The company was already likely to benefit from securing a domestic (California) caviar source before the fish and wildlife service crackdown. Now that competing specialty foods stores won't be able to offer sevruga and osetrina as legal alternatives to beluga, Whole Foods should become the logical destination for high-disposable-income shoppers jonesing for some primo fish eggs.
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares in any company mentioned above.