Historically, sturgeon was considered among the finest seafood available along the East Coast of the United States. The fish was prized for its firm texture and delicate flavor.
However, the population of domestic sturgeon collapsed in the early 20th century and has never recovered. The Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon, which are indigenous to North Carolina, remain on the endangered species list.
As a result, most American consumers are unfamiliar with this species, particularly as a source of nutritious protein.
Today, sturgeon are considered a valuable commercial species because of the high price of its roe, better known as caviar.
Currently two North Carolina businesses – Marshallberg Farm of Smyrna and Atlantic Caviar & Sturgeon of Lenoir – are culturing Russian sturgeon, Acipenser gueldenstadtii. These fish produce Ossetra caviar, considered second in quality behind the famed Beluga.
These farms use indoor recirculating aquaculture systems. The Russian sturgeon are raised indoors to prevent them from escaping into the wild. The recirculating systems capture effluent from the tanks and repurpose it for agricultural use.
Originally business success for cultured Russian sturgeon depended solely on the production of caviar, a luxury product for which there is worldwide demand. However, Atlantic now has high-quality sturgeon meat available for sale. It is a source of nutritious, flavorful protein.
A market for fresh sturgeon has not existed in the U.S. for more than 100 years. As a result, consumers are unfamiliar with the superior quality of sturgeon meat, which is similar to grouper and swordfish – both popular and in short supply.
In 2013, North Carolina Sea Grant researchers collaborated Tim Coyne, executive chef at Bistro By The Sea in Morehead City, to develop a variety of culinary preparations using cultured sturgeon as the prime ingredient. In a series of tastings, some of the chef’s actual customers were invited to decide the cooking methods and flavor profiles they preferred most.
In upcoming posts, we will share with you the sturgeon preparations that were popular with our consumer panelists. We also will provide an overview of the species and information on its nutritional value.
Barry Nash and John Burke
John Burke worked as a fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Laboratory in Beaufort, N.C., where he cultured commercially important fishes and conducted early life history and stock enhancement investigations. Though retired, his fascination for fishes hasn’t faltered. A resident of Marshallberg, N.C., he spends time culturing koi carp, and catching, consuming and creating watercolor paintings of local fishes.