This is a certified translation of a German article about caviar farming: - Das Märchen vom massierten Stör - "The fairy tale of the massaged sturgeon" by Die Tageszeitung - TAZ - February 15, 2016. (See footnotes for context.)
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15.02.2016

Decadence and sustainability

The fairy tale of the massaged sturgeon

A marine biologist's promise of environmentally-friendly caviar first caused a stir, but now the fraud investigators are knocking on her door.

The research concluded: there's something fishy about sturgeon that lay eggs in a tank.
..... click to read the original  German  article on taz

BREMERHAVEN taz newspaper | Politically-correct caviar! The idea sounds tempting. Too tempting, even for politicians, the media, investors. And at the end of the day, it looks like the fairy tale has lost nine million Euros, including: state aid worth hundreds of thousands. Handed out when the tempting idea was almost dead in the water. Now the public prosecutor is investigating charges of fraudulent use of state aid.

The Loxstedt Siedewurth industrial estate, on the outskirts of Bremerhaven. Just last year, the Vivace Caviar farm still stood here, the place where the fairy tale was supposed to come true. The place where "luxury, animal rights and research acumen" were supposed to meet, so wrote the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, decadence without a guilty conscience. The finest caviar was going to be harvested here, i.e. the sturgeon's eggs - while keeping this ancient fish species, otherwise threatened by extinction, alive.

"Until recently, the idea was unthinkable" claimed the company, an offshoot of the renowned Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven. It is true that since 2008 a strict ban has been in place against catching wild sturgeon. Yet in many fish farms around the world, the fish is generally killed in order to harvest its eggs. Angela Köhler, a marine biologist and AWI professor, then stepped up, intending to change this. The magazine Land&Meer then distilled her idea down to a pretty slogan, "Massage, not Murder". The taz newspaper crowned her the "sturgeon's friend". But today, Ms Köhler prefers not to talk to the press.

Things were so different back in 2014, when broadcaster ARD filmed an exclusive documentary about her. Just massage the fish while it is out of the water, it was claimed in that piece, and then you can simply "strip off" the eggs. After that, it was claimed on TV, the fish were "fit as a fiddle". And best of all, according to the company's PR: "the quality and size of the caviar increases with each harvest". Now, it's important to understand that the sturgeon gets very old, but it takes years until they produce eggs for the first time. "The idea of protecting the species is really at the heart of everything", Köhler told the ARD. What she didn't mention, and was later reported by Der Spiegel magazine, was that Vivace Caviar was treating its sturgeon with hormones that are not even approved for use in Germany.

And the whole thing was her idea: Angela Köhler actually has a patent for it, in almost 100 countries worldwide, all paid for by AWI. Vivace Caviar, the company with exclusive worldwide rights to that patent, filed for bankruptcy in the summer.

Why? In the Weser Kurier newspaper, managing director Thomas Bauer blamed competition from China and a Swiss investor, family office Wecken & Cie. The latter initially viewed Vivace Caviar as a "sustainable investment". And emphasised that they did not simply pull out, but rather "did not increase" their investment, as sales and costs then became "completely out of proportion" to each other.

For good reason: The Vivace caviar was a complete and utter "dud", as a caviar expert informed taz. The product was "inedible", indeed: "an impertinence". and: it was clear from the very beginning that Vivace Caviar was "not going to work". Why? "You can't just strip off the eggs from a sturgeon" the industry insider says, at least not just with a gentle massage, without hormones. "There is nothing ethical about this thing", reports the caviar merchant. He talks of "cruelty to animals".

The end result of the bankruptcy is several jobs lost and ten million Euros in debts, as confirmed by bankruptcy administrator Edgar Grönda. He is expecting to recover around one million Euros from the company assets. It is true that live sturgeon are extremely expensive. But since commercial production at Vivace Caviar was officially operated as "animal experiments" on account of the hormones, the fish can only be sold off as cheap animal fodder or as an ingredient for cosmetics.

That is not only a concern for the investors, but also for the public authorities, who subsidised Vivace Caviar just before the insolvency to the tune of almost 670,000 Euros. The Lower Saxony Ministry of Agriculture approved the state aid. The Ministry has now filed charges against Bauer - for fraudulent use of state aid. And that isn't the end of her legal woes: The Stade public prosecutor's office has confirmed that Bauer is also under investigation for the withholding and embezzling wages.

This isn't the first company that has set out with a vision of producing sustainable caviar: Caviar Creator, from Demmin in Western Pomerania was the other company. They also promised double-digit returns to investors and planned to produce several hundred tons of caviar per year. In 2010 the company boss was sentenced to three years and eight months in jail for investment fraud running into the millions.

Ralf Bos is one of the very first people who tried Vivace Caviar. A chef and fine foods merchant, he is one of the key players in the industry. "That stuff tasted horrible", Bos says, also saying he "never" intended to include it in his product range. "It was crystal clear to me that this product would never sell."

And that is saying something: The caviar market is small - if production increases, the price falls. In 2014, 240 tons of farmed caviar were produced worldwide, with the majority coming from China. By 2019, the amount of caviar harvested is forecast to double. But prices are currently falling by about 10% per year. According to Bos, the wholesale restaurant price of caviar today is a good 500 Euros, with "sensational quality" product costing as much as 800 Euros. In 2004, the price was still as high as 4,000 Euros.

It's usual to harvest the eggs before full maturity for this kind of caviar, then the little black eggs are firmer. Vivace Caviar used ovulated eggs, meaning: ready to be fertilised. "It looks like a mass of jelly which has been churned up with a fork", says Bos. "It was then reformed back into balls using molecular cooking methods". For Rolf Bos, Vivace Caviar was "dead in the water after the first spoonful".

ROLF BOS, CHEF AND CAVIAR MERCHANT

"It was crystal clear to me that this product would never sell."

Bos also soon realised that the caviar made in Loxstedt Siedewurth was not quite as innovative and ethically unimpeachable as was being claimed and reported. "Fantastic fairy tales" was what Ms Köhler was telling him, he said, also mentioning that the people at Vivace Caviar were "not honest". Because: This thing with the ovulated caviar is by no means new. In fact, it is "old hat", in Russia at least, and has "never made an impact" on the market. Why? "It has no taste." And Vivace's methods "weren't very good for the fish", Bos says. "It is an illusion to believe that you can produce high-quality caviar for culinary use without the sturgeon dying. You can only ever harvest ovulated eggs from live fish and they are the ones most unsuitable for eating."

Yet the AWI soldiers on, "we continue to believe in the enormous potential of the patent-protected process and its technical feasibility" states an AWI spokesperson. "Initial contacts we have recently made with interested parties confirm this belief." The AWI expects it will be able to successfully license its patent in future. The research institute is reluctant to reveal how much the patent cost them, "for competitive reasons". A patent lawyer interviewed by taz on this matter believes that on top of the official fees of around 3,000 Euros and the cost of a patent lawyer - "perhaps somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 Euros" - additional costs "in the lower to mid five-figures" would have been required to register the patent in other countries.

A recent report in this regard by the Swiss Tagesanzeigernewspaper stated that in 2013 a company called "Kasperskian Caviar" paid 1.75 million Swiss francs for an "exclusive licence" for a Russian-registered patent. For a process that is similar to the one used by Angela Köhler. This process also involves keeping the fish alive while harvesting the coveted eggs. According to the Tagesanzeigerthe people behind this new company are the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nestlé and a Russian businessman. The AWI denies that their patent has been purchased by "Kasperskian Caviar". "We have not yet issued any further licences", states the AWI spokesperson. The search for potential buyers continues.

Industry insiders doubt that AWI will be successful in their search. In the meantime, the collapse of Vivace Caviar continues to generate attention: The taxpayers' federation plans to add the case to its "black book": "Companies in financial difficulties are in principal prohibited from enjoying the benefits of state aid."

The CDU party in the Lower Saxony parliament have referred the case to the state audit office. "If the review indicates it was foreseeable that the solvency of the company was not feasible", the Agriculture Minister from the Green party, Christian Mayer, "not only supported a controversial animal experiment with public funds, but also needlessly wasted tax monies," the CDU states.

By the way, Vivace Caviar is still available on the Amazon website: 50 grams for 107.25 Euros.

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from the original German text in the article Das Märchen vom massierten Stör

http://www.taz.de/Archiv-Suche/!5274301&s=Das+Märchen+vom+massierten+Stör/
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about the above article - (this English translation)

The independently produced certified English translation above is offered as part of the public record of discussion about the caviar market. If you have any questions or comments you should contact the publisher of the original German article.

The above English translation was commissioned to assist readers in an English hamlet (East Chiltington) learn more about various aspects of international caviar farming and production when development plans were submitted in 2016 to construct a caviar farm in their lane. For more about that see wrongthingwrongplace.com
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