California has become the world's foremost producer of white sturgeon, due in large part to the research and vision of University of California, Davis, scientist Serge Doroshov. Farming sturgeon for meat and caviar may relieve the pressure on wild stocks of the endangered fish.
The United Nations recently lifted a ban on exports of "wild" caviar from the Russia, Iran and other countries around the Caspian Sea, after they agreed on lower quotas and a plan to conserve the fish.
Doroshov joined UC Davis' animal science department 25 years ago, bringing with him a wealth of knowledge about the ancient, mammoth fish prized worldwide for their eggs -- caviar. With his collaborators, he demonstrated that it was possible to override the fish's slow sexual maturation by changing the rearing environment and hormonally inducing ovulation and sperm production. This makes captive breeding and caviar production a practical endeavor.
Sturgeon and their ancestors are thought to have lived as long as 200 million years ago, predating most other modern fish. These prehistoric holdovers have a skeleton made mostly of cartilage with few bones and may live for over 100 years. They grow to weigh more than 1,000 pounds. They mature slowly, with wild females first spawning when 15 to 25 years old.
Doroshov showed that sturgeon could be raised in ponds and tanks and fed an artificial food. In collaboration with other UC Davis scientists, he has applied his research to breed bigger, longer-living sturgeon that yield large quantities of caviar. White sturgeon caviar retails for about $35 per ounce, while Russian and Iranian caviar is more expensive.
Doroshov has also contributed to the development of sustainable commercial-scale aquaculture for other fish including striped bass, grass carp and paddlefish. He has trained more than 600 students in production aquaculture and reproductive biology of fish species for aquaculture.