Caviar from the Heartland

Some 300 million to 400 million years earlier, a funny-looking fish with a giant nose swam the world’s primeval waterways. Today its female descendants produce a few of the tastiest roe this side of Iran and are assisting to jump-start the domestic caviar market in the U.S. No, we’re speaking not about sturgeon but about its coz the paddlefish (Polyodon spathula). These fish live more than 50 years, grow to five feet in length, and weigh 60 to 100 pounds. Their long, thin noses extend some 15 inches, making them look like Pinocchio’s prehistoric ancestors. At least one entrepreneur has great reason to like these undesirable creatures. Missouri fish farmer Jim Kahrs will sell just about $50,000 worth of paddlefish caviar this year however expects that number to rise to $1 million by 2008. “I think they’re lovely,” states Kahrs, 79. “But I’m prejudiced.”.

Like other little domestic caviar manufacturers, Osage is prospering, thanks to a current import ban on all caviar from the Caspian and Black seas, where most of the trade comes from. As a result of the ban, much of the world’s finest caviar can no longer be shipped to 169 countries – including the U.S., which once snapped up most of the Caspian’s manufacturing.

Osage has actually been farming paddlefish for 30 years and is the only U.S. ranch certified to export paddlefish items. (Some time back, after years of overfishing and environment damage from dams, the wild paddlefish was stated a threatened types by the U.S. government.).
The company, which markets its caviar under the L’Osage brand, has actually won its means into high-end restaurants and was consisted of in the gift bags at the Academy Awards. A couple of years ago famed New York caviar importer Petrossian even provided to buy the little business.

Paddlefish caviar might not be considered as glamorous as imported beluga (experts describe the paddlefish’s smaller sized eggs as similar to the lesser-grade sevruga), it has actually won acceptance amongst connoisseurs. “Several years ago I tasted paddlefish caviar however wasn’t blown away by its murky-water taste,” shares Rick Moonen, the chef and owner of RM Seafood at Mandalay Place in Las Vegas. “Then I tasted L’Osage, and it opened my eyes to something different.

Modest beginnings.
Jim Kahrs started Osage Catfisheries (then called Turkey Bend Minnow Hatchery) in 1953. He started raising minnows for fishermen and quickly branched into catfish farming. Over time he added lots of types belonging to the Missouri and Mississippi Valley waterways, consisting of black crappie, blue gill sunfish, largemouth bass and paddlefish, which he initially raised for the aquarium trade.

“Paddlefish are popular fish tank animals because they grow so huge and never stop swimming, and individuals like their huge noses,” he says. Osage has actually supplied paddlefish to institutions all over the country, consisting of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. The business likewise does a vigorous abroad company in paddlefish eggs that can be hatched out and raised for meat. (Paddlefish meat has a texture just like swordfish and is offered smoked or in steaks. Although not popular in the West, it is thought about a delicacy in Asia.).

Kahrs initially started considering paddlefish caviar in the late 1980s after he saw headings about declining wild sturgeon populations in the Caspian Sea. He introduced a pilot program a couple of years later on and gathered his very first caviar crop in 2000.

Producing paddlefish caviar is hardly a shake-and-bake venture. For one thing, paddlefish are normally river fish and won’t reproduce on their own in the lakes and ponds where Osage’s fish reside. Osage uses in vitro fertilization, blending paddlefish egg and sperm utilizing a wild turkey feather.

A numerous harvest.
Once the fish have actually grown to an arm’s length, Kahrs and his children move them into synthetic lakes at real estate developments all over Missouri and Kansas. To this day he has stocked even more than 100 private lakes and ponds, consisting of several at high-end golf clubs and resorts. He pays the homeowner a charge (generally $1 a pound for male paddlefish and $1.50 a pound for females) when he collects them seven to 9 years later on.

Unlike farmed sturgeon, paddlefish require little care: They live off zooplankton that grows normally in water. And paddlefish are fun to have around since they breach like whales, specifically when a golf ball flies into a powerboat or the lake passes over their heads.
Last March was harvest period at a lake on the Osage Catfisheries house ranch in Osage. FSB accompanied while Kahrs and his boys gathered the paddlefish – now weighing in at 50 to 80 pounds each – with huge nets and biopsied them to determine their gender. The biggest females were booked for breeding, and the rest were eliminated for their caviar. A normal female yields 8 to nine pounds of roe.

Today an ounce of L’Osage caviar retails for $35, vs. about $240 for the very same amount of Caspian beluga – if you can discover it. In 2012 the Kahrs household produced about 100 pounds of L’Osage paddlefish caviar, up from 30 pounds in 2000. The retail value of Osage’s whole 2005 production was $56,000, a tiny portion of the estimated $15 million market for domestic U.S. caviar. Osage has actually had to turn down business in current months, including an order for four metric lots from a company in Japan.

While Osage might not have more than enough caviar to keep up with demand right now, Jim Kahrs wishes to enhance yearly manufacturing to 1,000 pounds by 2008 and to a number of tons in subsequent years. On the other hand, Kahrs is working with the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the University of Missouri at Columbia to extract paddlefish collagen for use in the cosmetics market along with medical applications such as cartilage and joint fluid replacement. And the intricately patterned, sharklike skin could be utilized for “natural leather” items.
If the Caspian caviar ban is lifted and caviar connoisseurs go back to taking pleasure in imported beluga, perhaps the market will be flooded with new paddlefish accessories. Paddlefish purse? Keep in mind, you read it below initially.