Non-sturgeon fish roe is not technically caviar, even though it is referred to that way in the United States. It may be processed and labeled in a similar way, but because it’s more prevalent and easier to get it’s not as expensive.
True caviar is known for being quite expensive, and that’s because the quality is much higher. It’s also more difficult to harvest and process because sturgeon are an endangered species. They must be farmed and this is a more costly process on its own.
Caviar substitutes, which are salted fish roe that come from fish other than sturgeon, are most definitely less expensive. And there are a number of additional reasons to consider for why this would occur as well.
Sturgeon take a long time to grow, taking up to 10 years before they actually are capable of producing roe. On the other hand, species that are used for the substitutes are able to produce roe in as little as two years or even less. That means it’s a lot faster and easier to get the product.
Also, there are specific regions where sturgeon are able to flourish. Wild sturgeon are endangered and have a big problem with their habitats being destroyed. Other types of fish are much easier to find and much easier to catch.
There is also less involved in farming other types of sturgeon because they are generally smaller. This means they take up less space and they don’t need as much food. All of this decreases the overall cost of producing the caviar in the first place.
Because of the different characteristics of the sturgeon, which we’ve discussed here, it can be quite expensive to raise them, and it can be hard to find them anywhere else. Plus, they’re considered endangered, which has increased the regulations that the government has handed down on trade.
In the United States, the US Department of Fish and Wildlife has extensive regulations related to sturgeon, especially the fishing and farming processes. This also applies to the paddlefish, but does not apply to other types of fish or roe.
The endangered aspect of sturgeon and the quality of the product produced means that the eggs are considered rare. And when you add in the costs as well as the regulations, it’s easy to see why sturgeon caviar is so much more expensive than alternatives.