Species and hybrid identification of sturgeon caviar: a new molecular approach to detect illegal trade



Overexploitation of wild populations due to the high economic value of caviar has driven sturgeons to near extinction. The high prices commanded by caviar on world markets have made it a magnet for illegal and fraudulent caviar trade, often involving low-value farmed caviar being sold as top-quality caviar. We present a new molecular approach for the identification of pure sturgeon species and hybrids that are among the most commercialized species in Europe and North America. Our test is based on the discovery of species-specific single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the ribosomal protein S7, supplemented with the Vimentin gene and the mitochondrial D-loop. Test validations performed in 702 specimens of target and nontarget sturgeon species demonstrated a 100% identification success for Acipenser naccarii, A. fulvescens, A. stellatus, A. sinensis and A. transmontanus. In addition to species identification, our approach allows the identification of Bester and AL hybrids, two of the most economically important hybrids in the world, with 80% and 100% success, respectively. Moreover, the approach has the potential to identify many other existing sturgeon hybrids. The development of a standardized sturgeon identification tool will directly benefit trade law enforcement, providing the tools to monitor and regulate the legal trade of caviar and protect sturgeon stocks from illicit producers and traders, hence contributing to safeguarding this group of heavily threatened species.