- The Plate
How Oklahoma Cornered the Market in … Caviar
At first sight, it’s hard to imagine why the American paddlefish is at the center of a heated, nearly philosophical debate.
Native to the Mississippi River Basin, the prehistoric species of sturgeon is a bizarre creature. It can grow to be more six feet long, weighs an average of 60 pounds, and has a long, flat appendage jutting out of its head.
And it’s valuable. When the Caspian Sea beluga sturgeon population—the traditional, prized source of caviar—collapsed in the 1980s, market pressures shifted to species that could offer a similar product. American fishermen began producing paddlefish caviar from the fish’s slimy, black rolls of eggs, and a handful of individuals started aquaculture operations, calling themselves paddlefish ranchers.
Poaching spiked, too, with criminals selling illegally harvested paddlefish