MONTEVIDEO – Uruguay has made a name for itself as Latin America’s premier exporter of sturgeon caviar and one of the world’s industry leaders.
The banks of the Rio Negro River, which traverses the country from east to west, are home to the fish farms of Black River Caviar, Uruguay’s foremost caviar exporter.
A market dominated by countries such as Russia – the world leader – Azerbaijan, Iran and, more recently, China, caviar production in the South American region is led by Uruguay, with Ecuador a distant second, according to figures provided by the Uruguay XXI Institute, an investment and export promotion organization.
Uruguay is also one of the world’s main Siberian sturgeon producers, with two-year-old males not selected for breeding are used for their meat – as well as females, after the roe has been extracted – which is mainly shipped to Russia.
It all started in the 1990s in Baygorria, a city in Uruguay’s central Durazno region, when the Alcalde family founded the first sturgeon farm.
According to Javier Alcalde, Black River Caviar director and co-owner, it was his father, Walter – the manager of a company that provided service to Russian fishing vessels in the 1980s – who came up with the idea to spearhead the business in Uruguay.
“We had a good relationship with the Russian fleet,” said Alcalde. “In conversation, my father heard that the Russians had done a satellite study that showed Uruguay as the most suitable spot outside of the Caspian Sea for sturgeon breeding,” said Alcalde.
Then, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Alcalde family started “making calls,” obtaining information about what was considered to be the USSR’s “flagship” product and gaining access to information and technology, which was zealously kept.
After searching for an appropriate breeding ground for the northern fish, the Alcalde family found it in the banks of the Rio Negro River.
Caviar can vary in color and taste depending on the sturgeon species – Siberian, Russian or sterlet – and a given fish can produce extractable roe for between six and nine years.