The world's largest caviar farm in Abu Dhabi is expected to produce 35 tonnes of caviar a year.
UAE to serve up home grown caviar
ABU DHABI // The UAE will produce its first sturgeon caviar this year, thanks to the world's largest and most technologically advanced caviar farm.
At its farm in Musaffah, the Royal Caviar Company now has about 7,000 Siberian sturgeon in its tanks. The fish, all 18 tonnes of them, were flown from Germany last month.
International officials all but shut down the wild caviar market in 2006, following concerns about overfishing of the endangered wild Caspian sturgeon.
As a result, the total world supply of caviar - about 120 tonnes a year - barely touches the sides of the global hunger for it, estimated at 400 tonnes a year. There is demand in the UAE alone for some 14 to 15 tonnes a year.
To meet that shortfall, sturgeon farms have been set up around the world, in Iran, France, Italy, Germany and Uruguay - and now in Abu Dhabi.
"It is very hard to get wild caviar any more because sturgeon are endangered species," said Robert Harper, the commercial director of Bin Salem, which owns the Musaffah factory.
Bin Salem has teamed up with United Food Technologies, a German company, to launch the farm, which at 50,000 square metres is four times the size of any other.
The factory will receive 120,000 fertilised sturgeon eggs from Germany. When these grow into adults and start producing eggs, the centre will hatch its own fish.
By the time it reaches full capacity, four years from now, the factory hopes to be producing 35 tonnes of caviar and 700 tonnes of sturgeon meat a year.
The plant aims to make maximum use of its produce. Rather than being discarded, all the skin and bones of the fish are used to make fertiliser. "This type of plant is the only one to produce caviar from a sustainable source," said Christoph Hartung, United's chairman.
The Dh420million project includes a recirculation system, which purifies the water in six weeks using a biological filter, and monitors the quality and temperature in a laboratory. It will also use ultrasound to check when the roe are ready.
"It's very important to have different temperatures in these plants: baby sturgeons must live at 15 degrees, fingerlings [about 15 centimetres] at 19 degrees and the final growth at 21 degrees," said Mr Hartung.
The German company has also offered the Abu Dhabi factory 20 rare albino sturgeon from Europe. These sturgeon have no pigmentation and their eggs, "diamond caviar", are completely white - and the most expensive in the world.
The project will have three different pilot operations to test various retail outlets, including hotels and supermarkets.
When it does go on sale in the UAE - expected to be before the end of 2012 - 1g of caviar will cost between Dh14 to Dh22.
Eventually, the factory should be able to produce enough for export to Europe, the Far East and North America.
"The Middle East and the GCC represent an excellent market for us," said Mr Hartung.
"Abu Dhabi also has a good supply of power for the plant and it helps to improve the sturgeon's living environment."