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Monday, June 17, 2024

It's no longer champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

This pricey delicacy has become a reality for farmers across Florida.

Caviar could become one of the state's most profitable exports because of Frank Chapman, an associate professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

In the last 20 years, overfishing of sturgeon in the wild has caused the availability of caviar to dwindle.

"We have found a way to finish the cycle," Chapman said.

His research began in 1979 when he was one of four graduate students at the University of California, Davis, who pioneered research to farm-raise sturgeon.

He brought his knowledge to UF, giving ossetra, beluga and sevruga sturgeon to aquafarms across Florida in hopes of spawning a successful domestic caviar industry.

Gene Evans, 68, was one of the people who cashed in on Chapman's knowledge. He houses his sturgeon in 90,000 gallon tanks on his farm in Pierson, Fla.

"Hopefully, we'll have some this year if I live long enough," he said of caviar harvesting.

Eventually, he anticipates up to 10 tons a year.

Sturgeons have been known to grow to lengths of 8 feet and can weigh 2,000 pounds.

The fish are well-known for a tendency to leap out of the water and injure boaters.

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Evans said the only injuries he's received from his fish leaping out of their tanks is the back pain he feels when he heaves the sturgeon back into the water.

Prices vary for the fish eggs, known as fish roe. The average price for 50 grams of ossetra caviar is ,350.

With roughly nine million grams in one ton, Evan's caviar harvest could sell for about ,60 million.

Evan, however, is more invested in the meat his sturgeon will provide.

He eats it and gives the steaks out at weddings. He expects his fish filets to replace the demand for swordfish, which has declined in population in recent years.

"I'm not going for glitter," he said. "I like nuts and bolts."

Check the Web site for a video of UF's sturgeon farm.

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