The illegal trade in black caviar total information


The trade-in caviar has a rich and colorful history, influenced over thousands of years by many cultures, societies, and in the last decades by regulation. The value of caviar is historically discovered in the context of social change, political relationships, and environmental change. The role of organized crime is described, as the scarcity of caviar has offered the unique opportunity to fish illegally, smuggle, and trade contraband to mainly European countries with millions in profits. This study highlights that these criminal networks manifest themselves at all levels of the trade: from the poaching areas where organized criminal groups cooperate with law enforcers and possess top-notch equipment to major smuggling operations in the hands of sophisticated criminal networks. Although due to overexploitation ‘wild caviar’ is increasingly difficult to obtain, the demand in the context of exclusivity and scarcity remains intact by the upper-class society’s desire for edible gold.


‘Today there is no legal Russian caviar in Europe Footnote1; ‘Caviar without rules Footnote 2; ‘Black caviar will disappear, but only for the poor and the honest’ Footnote3; ‘There will never be black caviar again, ever’.Footnote4 These were some of the headlines regarding illegal sturgeon fishing in Russia and illegal caviar exports to Europe that appeared in Russian newspapers over the past ten years. There are suspicions that 90 percent of the caviar currently being sold is extracted from illegally caught sturgeon (Nelleman et al. 2014). Prices in Western Europe range from 2000 or 6000 euros per kilo, to sometimes 25000 euros per kilo for extremely rare varieties (Liddick 2011: 77–78; Neve et al. 2012: 34). Some authors suggest that a mysterious and violent so-called ‘caviar mafia’ makes huge profits from this illegal trade (e.g. Sellar 2014).

For a long time, criminologists paid little attention to environmental crimes. This slowly changed in the 1990s and 2000s when several criminologists started to study green crimes, including wildlife-related crimes. On the one hand, criminologists approached the wildlife trade by applying an extended harm-based model (e.g. Wyatt 2013; Sollund 2013). Due to the fact that definitions of crime may alter over the course of time in the context of changing norms and morals, these criminologists suggest that wildlife crimes and harms that are not (yet) criminalized by law should be studied. Besides (social) anthropocentric harms (e.g. Hillyard et al. 2004), green criminologists extend the harm principle with species and ecosystems as victims of (human) actions in general and the symbiosis between man and nature in particular (South 1998; White 2008, 2011).

On the other hand, criminologists have focussed on the wildlife trade by approaching it from environmental criminological models (e.g. Pires and Moreto 2011; Petrossian and Clarke 2014). These frameworks originate from criminologists (e.g. Clarke 1983) who argue that crime is influenced by environmental factors. Situational circumstances can offer opportunities or limitations for committing crimes. From this perspective the focus is on the event in order to understand and explain the crime, but also items are attractive to be stolen for their enjoyable, valuable, and concealable features (Moreto and Lemieux 2014).

The present study answers the call for empirical research on wildlife crimes as insights into this type of crime are extremely limited and only very few criminological studies have focussed on this research field. This study aims to contribute to criminological research on wildlife crimes by exploring the illegal trade in caviar as one specific case study from a research project on the illegal wildlife trade that started in 2012.Footnote5 Given the exploratory objectives of the present study, the primary data was collected and used from a grounded theory approach. This is an inductive and iterative strategy that results in the construction of theories or concepts from ‘within the data themselves’ (Charmaz 2006: 2). The purpose of this study is twofold: firstly, to analyze how criminal networks operate along the whole ‘pipeline’ of the illegal trade in caviar and, secondly, to consider the social, economic, and environmental contexts and consequences of their activities are. This study thereby contributes to both criminological and conservation science literature and provides a basis for future research on wildlife crimes. The article starts with a brief overview of the social construction of the value of caviar and regulation and criminalization issues. Then the main findings of our study will be presented and the article will be concluded with a discussion.


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