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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, January 26, 2002

Caviar farming starts to hatch here

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Champagne dreams and caviar wishes are coming true for a pair of Hilo educators.

Well, at least the caviar part. The champagne may have to wait until their aquaculture project raising Russian sturgeon for caviar eggs starts paying off.

Kevin Hopkins, a professor of aquaculture at the University of Hawai'i-Hilo, and retired UH extension agent Howard Takata are proving that Russian sturgeon can be raised here and grow much bigger than in the Caspian Sea.

That's great news for venture capitalists looking for something new. Russian sturgeon caviar eggs — the cream of the caviar crop — sell for about $1,300 a pound, and the meat of the fish for more than $50 a pound.

Hopkins and Takata began working with Russian sturgeon nearly a decade ago.

What they found was that the local sturgeon not only grow three times as fast as the Caspian fish but mature twice as fast, after only five years.

Hopkins and Takata are recruiting others to start sturgeon farms to generate product for their own Hawaiian Sturgeon & Caviar Co. But the convincing hasn't been easy. The initial investment is big and the payoff delayed. While the meat can be harvested within two years, big profits — from the caviar — take at least seven years to realize.

Still, at least five Hawai'i fish farms are raising sturgeon and another is poised to start up in Ukumehame, Maui.