Piscifactoría de Sierra Nevada has always been a pioneering company. It was when he first started to devote himself to trout aquaculture in the 1950’s and it is now thanks to his decision to turn his business around to devote himself to sturgeon and caviar. This change of course was motivated by the market. “Up until the 1980s, the trout business was very profitable. It was a relatively undeveloped and young sector, so many competitors emerged in those years. It evolved from a high-quality artisanal production item to an almost intensive aquaculture, with which profitability began to decline,” explains Diego Pozas, General Manager of the company.
Owners clearly saw the need to change the game and study new species. They discovered that sturgeons existed in the Guadalquivir less than 100 years ago and that there was even a caviar factory owned by the Ybarra family. Why not revive this species? The company requested collaboration from the Department of Genetics at the University of Granada to identify the sturgeon species found in Spain. One of them was the Nacarii, found in several European rivers. They went to the Po River in northern Italy and brought back some specimens with which they began research into reproduction and restoration of their ecosystem. Meanwhile, the income that the trout continued to provide funded the necessary investments to develop the sturgeon business, an animal that takes between 12 and 15 years to reach adulthood and therefore begin caviar production. That was around 1988. Twenty years later, sturgeon and caviar already account for 95% of the company’s sales.
In addition, far from being frightened by the crisis, the company continues to work to grow. In 2008 it invested more than two million euros in the acquisition of an old trout farm in Yesa (Navarre). He already has about 100 tons of sturgeons there. “When these facilities are in full swing, they will enable us to become one of the leading caviar producers in Europe. We will sustainably increase from the two tons produced this year to six to eight tons,” says Pozas.
Scarcity and good price
The company’s business transformation is paying off. The keys to success in a market as old as caviar are:
A rare and precious commodity. “Caviar has been imported from the Caspian Sea for 100 years and was a fisheries product. As a result of the sinking of the USSR, overfishing and contamination of the Caspian Sea, it has become scarce, especially quality caviar, and the price has skyrocketed. 20 years ago the production of caviar for export in the Caspian region was 400 tons per year, to which must be added the consumption in Russia, which could be this figure or even more. Last year the catch quota in the Caspian Sea was two tons, and this year fishing on it is already prohibited. There is no alternative to consuming quality caviar other than the sustainable caviar that we aquaculturists produce. There are no more than 15 fish farms producing caviar in the world,” explains the company’s CEO.
…at a “reasonable” price. The price difference to caviar from fishing is large. “Sustainable caviar is sold to end consumers for around 2,000 euros per kilo. The wild origin that remains very little, double or even triple. It is being sold at such a high price because it is no longer available. In fact, traditional Iranian brands that sell caviar across Europe have been selling caviar from European aquaculture for a number of years,” says Pozas.