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Iran Has Lost Its Nuclear Program But Regained Its Caviar Industry

Thanks to the recent nuclear deal with Iran, 2010's sanctions are being eased and lifted—paving the way for the resurgence of Iran's caviar industry.

The Gulf nation of Iran is well on its way to triumphantly reclaiming the title of world's largest luxury food exporter, and all it took was years and years of geopolitical sidestepping and the most publicized nuclear disarmament agreement ever to be signed.

That, and a desert kingdom now chock-full of ovulating sturgeon.

Thanks to the recent nuclear deal with Iran, 2010 sanctions imposed against the ever-embattled nation have begun to ease, allowing for explosive growth in a range of export-oriented markets. Chief among these is the oft-overlooked Iranian caviar industry.


Way back when—in the pre-sanction glory days of the early aughts—Iran sold a staggering 40 tons of caviar a year. Just to give you a picture of how Iran's caviar industry has fared since the imposition of the 2010 sanctions, export sales dropped from that height to just one ton sold annually.

WATCH: Caviar Is Black Gold in the MUNCHIES Guide to Tehran

Which is precisely why Iranian caviar producers who remember the good ol' days are waiting with bated breath for their gilded return to the international caviar stage.

Speaking to The Independent, Ishaq Islami, the manager of Ghareh Boron Caviar Fish Farm in the coastal village of Goldasht, said, "We hope that as a result of the government's interaction with the world, the path will be opened for us to export our products abroad." The farm and the two facilities that Islami oversees are currently breeding half-a-million sturgeon fingerlings a year, achieved by filling pools with water pumped in from the Caspian Sea.

Islami and his $100 million venture began the lucrative yet risky business during the pre-sanctioned days of 2005. Sturgeon-farming being the delicate dance it is, Islami was never able to capitalize on the un-neutered caviar market: none of the 110,000 beluga that he owned was mature enough back then to produce eggs. In fact, it takes roughly 12 years for a sturgeon to reach reproductive age.

But things are looking up—way up—for Islami and other caviar producers in Iran. "Our annual, projected hard-currency earnings in 2018 will be equal to the value of two days of Iran's crude-oil exports," he told The Independent.

The tiny fish egg business will be serving another purpose as well: It will reduce the Iranian government's reliance on crude-oil revenues and build up a broader range of exports.

"Lifting sanctions, specifically banking restrictions, will facilitate caviar exports and help the industry flourish in Iran," Nasser Oktaei, a caviar industry expert, said. "Caviar exports to the US, if they materialise, will inject a new blood into the industry and bring in the much-needed hard currency."

Several other small-scale farms that produce sturgeon are cropping up in Iran. Islami points out that all parts of the sturgeon can be used. "In addition to exporting eggs and meat, we will also produce oil and cosmetics. Sturgeon skin can also make good leather. Its intestine can be turned into sutures. Nothing is wasted. We also plan to turn our facility into a tourism attraction where customers will be able to buy the prized caviar and other products," he said.

Forget Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Caviar farming in Iran is totally where it's at.