Nutty, buttery, crisp caviar -- from the kibbutz

Tue May 29, 2012 9:44am EDT
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By Elana Ringler

KIBBUTZ DAN, Israel (Reuters) - When Yigal Ben Tzvi began working on the fish farms of his kibbutz two decades ago, he never imagined that one day each fish would be worth thousands of dollars.

During a trip to Russia in 1992, Ben Tzvi and his business partner Avshalom Hurvitz, spotted the potential of growing sturgeon on fish farms.

It was the peak of Russian Jewish immigration to Israel in the 1990s and they were looking to breed the famous Caspian Sea fish for local consumption by the thousands of newcomers.

But when the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) put sturgeon on its list in 1998 and prices of their black eggs began rocketing, the two fish farmers realized they could turn eggs into gold.

"We took the big risk in 2003 when we decided to go to caviar, because before it was for (sturgeon) meat," Ben Tzvi says. In 2003 "we had four-year-old fish and we decided to keep them another six years" with almost no income until they were ready to produce eggs, he said. "It was a big risk but we were lucky enough and the prices of the caviar are very good."

In 2006, CITES halted the global export of all wild caviar from sturgeon in the Caspian and Black Seas, creating an unexpected market opportunity for the two fish-farmers, who both grew up on a kibbutz collective community in northern Israel.

Their fish farm, Caviar Galilee, across the road from Kibbutz Dan near Israel's border with Lebanon, produced three metric tons (3.3069 tons) of caviar in 2011 and is aiming to reach eight metric tons by 2015. That makes an awful lot of 50 gram glass jars.

The farm comprises 40 ponds of 250 square-meters, with approximately 70,000 sturgeon of the Osetra species and it produces some of the finest farmed caviar worldwide.   Continued...

An employee of Caviar Galilee shows a sample of the company's "Karat Caviar", at their fish farm near Kibbutz Dan in northern Israel May 14, 2012. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun