Caviar, the exotic delicacy known as ‘black gold’ due its exorbitant price tag, is being produced in Hua Hin.
The farm, which is the first in Thailand, was set up by Alexey Tuytin six years ago, while his son Alexandr helps to oversee its daily operations
Despite having no prior experience to sturgeon farming, Alexey first set up the Thai Sturgeon Farm in Thap Thai in 2016 after importing the sturgeons – hybrids of beluga and amur – from China.
Today, the farm, which is backed by Thai, Russian and American investors, is home to approximately 50 male and 1,500 female sturgeon, with Alexey and Alexandr implementing a more ethical approach to traditional sturgeon farming.
Wild sturgeon, which live on average for around 50 to 60 years, is one of the most endangered species on the planet.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature around 85 percent of sturgeon species around the world are at risk of extinction, while sixteen varieties of the fish, including the well known beluga, are at critically low numbers.
For context, those numbers are similar to the likes of the black rhino or south China tiger.
In traditional sturgeon farming the fish are killed in order to extract their eggs.
However, Alexey and Alexandr use high-tech harvesting methods that result in the eggs being extracted similar to ‘milking’ rather than the sturgeon being killed.
It helps to make the process more sustainable, which in turn makes it more affordable for the consumer.
Every aspect of the production is monitored by computer from the temperature of the water, to feeding times, while ultrasound is used to determine the sex of the fish. The fish are also microchipped for easy identification.
A world away from the cold waters of the Caspian sea where sturgeon are found in the wild, the fish at the farm in Hua Hin swim in huge tanks where the water is maintained to a temperature of around 22 degrees Celsius.
“We have to cool all the water down we use at the farm as it would be too warm for the fish to survive”, Alexandr told Hua Hin Today.
“We use solar power to help cool the water, but even so our electricity bill is about 300,000 baht per month”.
Despite the challenges of farming sturgeon in a tropical climate, the conditions at the farm actually offer up some benefits.
The warmer waters enable the fish to mature more quickly – after about six years, as opposed to the ten to twelve years it takes sturgeon to mature in colder climates.
Once egg production begins, the fish are moved to tanks in a separate room where the temperature of the water is gradually lowered to around six degrees Celsius.
Unlike shop bought caviar which often contains a lot of additives or preservatives, only salt is added to the caviar produced at the Thai Sturgeon Farm.
“Caviar you can buy in the stores normally has preservatives added, but we add only salt to ours”, Alexandr explained.
The farm supplies numerous leading hotels and five star restaurants through Alexey’s company Caviar House, which is based in Bangkok.
Currently the Thai Sturgeon Farm can produce around 1.5 tonnes of caviar per year, all of which is sold in Thailand.
In the future Alexey and Alexandr hope to explore opportunities to export their caviar to other countries.