In the early 20th century, esturgeon (Acipenser sturio) were present in the estuary of the Gironde, the Dordogne and the Garonne where females went back to spawn, and where fishermen caught them for the fish itself—and fed the eggs to the ducks!
When a Russian Princess, crossing the Gironde, saw them, she was horrified. She explained that in her country this dish, caviar, was very expensive and fishermen could make fortunes, and sent down a Russian officer named Alexandre Scott to show them how.
Caviar production on the right bank of the Gironde quickly took off. Soon the locals were producing nearly five tonnes per year. In 1925, one sturgeon caught at Callonges weighed 490kg and contained 70kg of eggs.
Human nature being what it is, in only a few decades French sturgeon were close to extinction. By 1982, fishing was banned.
But immediately afterwards, Cemagref Bordeaux (Centre of Agricultural Machinery, Rural Engineering, Water and Forestry) set about pioneering sturgeon farming, and it’s been a gung-ho success. If you’re in the Dordogne, you can even stop by for a tour at one of the companies, Neuvic.
The male sturgeon (it takes three years to determine a little sturgeon’s sex) often get turned into smoked sturgeon, esturgeon fumé, or rillettes.
Image by cacaphony