MIAMI – Think of Russia when you think caviar? Think again. Sturgeon AquaFarms (SAF) in the tiny town of Bascom, Florida boasts more beluga sturgeon than the Caspian Sea.
The company began importing live Caspian beluga and sevruga in 2003 – just two years before mounting international pressure forced the U.S. to ban the import of beluga-related products. It is now the only company in the U.S. authorized to raise beluga sturgeon.
SAF started selling limited editions of caviar in 2012, and by 2014 it expects to begin harvesting upwards of 2 tons of caviar a year from its stock of sturgeon that includes beluga, sevruga, Russian osetra, and sterlet – which currently retails in Europe for $10,00-15,000/kilogram.
“It’s incredible to see life unfold in front of you, especially that of a species you can no longer find in the wild,” says co-founder Mark Zaslavsky, a Russian emigrant who along with his partner, Mark Gelman, also owns the famed Miami-based gourmet foods importer, Marky’s Group.
A skilled team of scientists and 30 years of expertise in the caviar industry are now starting to reap rewards for Zaslavsky and Gelman. In 2011 their beluga spawned three times – reproducing some 21,000 sturgeon – making SAF the largest beluga aqua farm in the world.
It’s not just the beluga that is helping the company make its mark. Located on a pristine 120-acre site in northern Florida, about 100,000 sturgeon are being raised in pure, drinking-grade quality water. In the wild, it may take a sturgeon 15-18 years to reach maturity and start producing eggs. But at SAF, with optimal conditions like a constant water temperature of 21 degrees Celsius, the company has been able to reproduce eggs and fish in two-to-five years in some species.
The company began delivering a limited quantity of sevruga caviar to Whole Foods and select restaurants in 2012 and will continue this year with a small increase in volumes. According to Zaslavsky, there are only 100 kilograms of sevruga caviar on the world market.
The company also recently introduced sterlet– once considered the most prominent fish of royal Russian cuisine – as a whole fresh fish to upscale markets and restaurants including Café Pushkin and the Riviera Grille & Sushi in New York.
Preservation of the species
Zaslavsky and Gelman saw a huge business opportunity as they watched the world population of sturgeon plummet more than 90 percent in the last 20 years due to overfishing and pollution. But they are also determined to help it survive. They are working with a team of Russian scientists to export fertilized eggs and experience to Russia and neighboring countries with the hope of restoring the world’s population of sturgeon.
“The motto of our farm is ‘preservation of the species’,” says Zaslavsky. “It’s an amazingly complex process, but we want to re-populate the Caspian Sea with our beluga.”
In the meantime, Zaslavsky and his partner will focus on the construction of a new caviar processing facility as they capitalize on their unique market position. While beluga sturgeon remains on the critically endangered species list and the fishing of wild beluga is prohibited, they are left with a monopoly on the U.S. production of beluga. Success never tasted so good.
For additional information, visit sturgeonaquafarms.com
About Marky’s Group, Inc:
Marky’s Group, Inc., founded in 1983, is the privately held parent company of all Marky’s branded distribution businesses, Sturgeon AquaFarms, Caviar & More and Marky’s Gourmet Retail Store. With locations in Miami, Panama and Europe, Marky’s manufactures, imports, exports, distributes and retails more than 8,000 gourmet foods and caviar worldwide to restaurants, hotels, retailers and consumers.