A 21st century resurgence of sturgeon


A high tech caviar farm in Abu Dhabi claims to have the largest capacity in the world; it will eventually produce 35 tonnes of caviar and 700 tonnes of sturgeon meat every year.

The indoor factory breeds and processes Siberian sturgeon — an endangered species native to Siberian river basins. Given the UAE’s drastically different climate, it’s quite an amazing feat for German technology.

Ahmed Al Dhaheri, the general manager of Emirates Aquatech talks about the process of breading sturgeon in Musaffah, Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

The fish are stored in temperatures of 17 degrees, and below, in a mostly automated system. And since the fish are bred, and not fished from their habitat; the species is not further put at risk.

To go back to an earlier story I wrote, when Al Nasr Leisureland opened in 1979, its Olympic ice rink was the first in the Middle East. People rubbed their eyes in awe at the idea of a large body of ice being sustained in the middle of the desert.

Fast forward 35 years, and most people would express little disbelief at the ability to breed and raise Siberian sturgeon – on land – in Abu Dhabi. As cliche as it is to point out, that is a testament to the influence that technological progress has on society’s perception of the possible.

The feeding machine is essentially a robot that circulates the different basins of fish, spitting out food at timed intervals. Each basin is closely monitored and regulated automatically.

One consequence of this is that the production-line process requires very few staff to run efficiently.Each wing, from a layman’s perspective, would only really need one technician on duty at any given time. When I went, there didn’t seem to be any technicians on duty at all. Their job seems to be largely limited to checking a computer screen for problems and correcting any that arise – surely, a robot could do this too one day.

Again, it’s cliched to point out how human labour is being obscured by automated systems. But the connotations of an automated production line caviar farm are both marvellous and slightly scary – while it makes the impossible possible, and cheaper, it also dehumanises the process.

Eventually, most caviar factories won’t need any human employees to operate – they’ll be run by an intertwined system of semi-intelligent robots. And then: Skynet.

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