The Beluga(huso huso) is the largest of all sturgeons (up to 6 meters/20 feet in length) and is the only carnivore. The Beluga has been known to weigh 600 kg (1,323 lb) or more, but unfortunately, because of aggressive modern fishing methods such a size this large seems extremely unlikely these days. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Beluga caviar accounted for 40 per cent of the sturgeon catch – in 2005, it was barely one per cent.
Beluga is silvery-grey in color and differs from other sturgeon in that it loses the bony scales along its length after it is a few months old. It has a large, compact head with a pointed snout and a large mouth, which a full-grown adult is up to 25 cm (10 in) wide. Two sets of barbels (rather like whiskers), which all sturgeon use to locate their food, are situated under its mouth. Up to 25 per cent of the Beluga’s body weight may consist of fish eggs, although individual fish have been recorded carrying up to 50 per cent. The female does not mature until about 25 years of age and may not spawn every year. Like all sturgeon, Beluga can keep their eggs inside them for more than one season, if the conditions and temperature are not favorable for spawning.
Because of its immense size, the Beluga caviar has the biggest fish eggs, which are the most highly prized for their large grain and fine skin. The egg color varies from light grey to nearly black. The lightest grey is the most highly appreciated, although the taste, described by experts as “a faint flavor of the sea”, should not be affected by the egg color.
Beluga caviar is protected as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This law generally prohibits the import of the caviar and export of caviar and the interstate sale of listed species and products made from them. The United States banned the importation of beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea basin as of September 30, 2005, and from the Black Sea basin as of October 28, 2005. No beluga caviar from any country in these basins could be legally imported after these dates. The affected countries include Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine.