Control of caviar trade

Genetic methods and isotope analyses are used for identification of caviar and sturgeon meat in the Danube countries.

Project details
Duration: since 05/2016 
Third-party funded: yes
Involved Department(s): Dept Evolutionary Genetics
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Arne Ludwig (Dept Evolutionary Genetics)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team: Dietmar Lieckfeldt (Dept Evolutionary Genetics)
Consortium Partner(s): WWF Austria; WWF Bulgaria; WWF Serbia; WWF Romania; WWF Ukraine; Agroisolab
Current Funding Organisation: LIFE 15 (EU)

Research Foci:

Improving population viability
Developing theories, methods, and tools


Sturgeon are the producers of the highest priced animal product – the famous black caviar. But poaching and illegal trade  jeopardize the future of wild sturgeon populations worldwide. Today, the IUCN Red List does quote sturgeons as more critically endangered than any other group of species. Within the European Union, the Danube River is the most important reservoir for sturgeon. Although fishing and domestic trade in products from wild sturgeons are illegal in all Danube countries, anecdotal information, official seizure data and a caviar market survey in Romania and Bulgaria from 2011 to 2012 demonstrate that poaching and illegal trade is still continuing. The goal of our project is a large-scale survey in the Lower Danube to provide reliable data on illegal sturgeon trade. Genetic methods (species/hybrid identification) and isotope approaches (wild origin) are used for identification of sturgeon from illegal origin.

Selected Publications

Luo D, Li Y, Zhao Q, Zhao L, Ludwig A, Peng Z (2019): Highly Resolved Phylogenetic Relationships within Order Acipenseriformes According to Novel Nuclear Markers. Genes 10(1), 38.

Boscari E, Vitulo N, Ludwig A, Caruso C, Mugue NS, Suciu R, Onara DF, Papetti C, Marino IAM, Zane L, Congiu L (2017): Fast genetic identification of the Beluga sturgeon and its sought-after caviar to stem illegal trade. Food Control 75, 145-152.

Boscari E, Barmintseva A, Zhang S, Yue H, Li C, Shedko SV, Lieckfeldt D, Ludwig A, Wei QW, Mugue NS, Congiu L (2017): Genetic identification of the caviar-producing Amur and Kaluga sturgeons revealed a high level of concealed hybridization. Food Control, 82, 243-250.

Ludwig A, Lieckfeldt D, Jahrl J. (2015): Mislabeled and counterfeit sturgeon caviar from Bulgaria and Romania. J Appl. Ichthyol. 31, 587–591. doi:10.1111/jai.12856.

Reinartz R, Lippold S, Lieckfeldt D, Ludwig A. (2011): Population genetic analyses of Acipenser ruthenus as a prerequisite for the conservation of the uppermost Danube population. J Appl. Ichthyol. 27, 477-483. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0426.2011.01693.x.

Ludwig A, Lippold S, Debus L, Reinartz R. (2009): First evidence of hybridization between endangered sterlets (Acipenser ruthenus) and exotic Siberian sturgeons (Acipenser baerii) in the Danube River. Biol Invasions 11, 753-760.