I was recently invited to a food industry event at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club that was sponsored by an international food distributor. There were many food-related businesses there that the distributor bought from. One of them was Mote (pronounced like moat) in Sarasota, FL. They are a private non-profit marine research lab. They have a marine toxicology unit, research red tides, dolphins and whales, have a dolphin and turtle hospital, public aquarium, and perform tropical coral research in the Florida Keys in addition to Estuary research in Charlotte Harbor.
They also have an aquaculture research center where they grow Siberian Sturgeon.
I was fortunate enough to talk at this event with the director of Mote's Sturgeon Aquaculture Program (DMAP) who is an expert on sturgeon and their eggs.
Traditionally, caviar comes from the Black and Caspian seas, though many other areas produce it.
Caviar is graded mainly on the size of the egg, but Color and Other Factors play a role in the grading process. Size matters, as the larger the egg the more yolk and more flavor.
There are 3 classifications of caviar. Beluga is the most coveted and the most expensive. It is the largest-sized sturgeon egg. Importation of Beluga caviar into the United States is illegal as the wild-caught sturgeon that produce this grade of caviar are endangered.
The next grade down is Osetra. DMAP told me there were two species in the Caspian Sea that produce this grade of caviar which ostensibly is the grade Mote produces. The eggs range from 2.2-2.6mm in diameter. Wild-caught Osetra Sturgeon are facing extinction. Fortunately, they have the genetic capacity to handle higher temperatures and are well-suited for sturgeon farms. DMAP said these fish take 4-7 years of growth to become egg producers. The first harvest of eggs typically produces a low yield compared to a fully mature sturgeon. This increases as the fish becomes older reaching up to 10% of the weight of the fish. Some other fun facts about Mote Caviar.
Sturgeon farming is extremely expensive. The capital outlay for energy, filtration technologies and water is tremendous. From what DMAP told me, Mote has done a good job of sustainability with their use of solar energy panels and water recycling. Even though at present day they farm up to 150 metric tons of fish they are a zero discharge facility due to their use of advanced filtration technology.
Sevruga caviar is the least coveted grade and has the smallest diameter eggs which typically are grey.They are very much more "fishy" tasting than their superior counterparts.
All of this was very interesting and it was very nice of DMAP to enlighten me on the world of caviar and sturgeon farming. I hope this was as interesting to you as it was to me.
That's that for another post on forks.
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy.
Sarasota, FL 34236