ACADIAN STURGEON AND CAVIAR LOOKS TO CULTIVATE FINE DINING IN THE PORT CITY
Cornel Ceapa takes a seat on the gunnel, and gazes out at the Saint John river as it sets his boat bobbing gently. Years ago he ventured across the Atlantic for this river, all the way from Romania, because of the sturgeon its tide provides.
“I’m a sturgeon fanatic,” Ceapa said. “They’re the most amazing fish on earth, such different biology than most species. They look cool, and of course they produce caviar.”
Some may doubt that the foggy, blue colored city of Saint John could have such a wealth of pristine cuisine in its waters. But Ceapa, who acquired a PhD in marine biology in Romania, felt that the Port City was the best place in the world to work his trade.
After immigrating with his family in July 2003, he began researching sturgeon at UNBSJ, and before long he was working with local fisheries to develop sturgeon aquiculture- farming and cultivating aquatic populations under controlled conditions- and starting his own business.
“It’s not about putting the labels on people or regions, I think it’s about using the resources,” he said of working in Saint John. “Sturgeon lived in this river way before people were here, for millions of years. And they have been an under developed, under exploited resource. That’s what we have to do right now, in any part of the world- develop the natural local resources until they flourish.”
Acadian sturgeon was incorporated in march of 2005, and since then they have had four seasons of spawning. In that time the company not only sold sturgeon and caviar to local restaurants- it has sent larvae, eggs and juveniles to the US, Poland and Germany for their aquiculture development.
Helena Legras, owner of L’Idylle restaurant in Dieppe, has been buying sturgeon meat and caviar from Acadian for a few years. She said that having a local source makes a world of difference, especially because Acadian works to develop the sturgeon population rather than just plunder it.
“Their products are on our menu because they have such respect for nature,” she said. “They have a product of high quality, because it is close it arrives so fresh.”
Ceapa said what makes Saint John special is the fact it’s the only river in the world where he can obtain Atlantic sturgeon broodstock- sexually mature fish that are kept separate for breeding. By maintaining that broodstock in the fisheries’ massive tanks, Acadian can ensure a sizeable catch, keep the eggs healthy and disease free, and raise an entire generation of cultured Atlantic sturgeon as their population in other waters dwindle.
“Aquaculture is a way of producing food sustainably,” Ceapa said. “We started as hunters and fishermen, but with the world population as of now, we can’t rely on wildlife resources without producing some of our own.”
But he said the real catch is to ensure that production is sustainable without harming the environment. Preserving the wildlife they work with is especially important because sturgeon are either endangered or vulnerable all over the world- in the last two decades annual caviar on the world market has dropped from 300 tons to 100, causing prices to soar.
He said caviar’s sky high costs should be reduced with the more sturgeon they cultivate, because New Brunswickers deserve to indulge themselves once in awhile.
“We address a high end market, but that doesn’t mean that it’s exclusive,” he said. “People should afford some exclusive foods at least from time to time, the more sturgeon we can cultivate, the easier that will happen.”
Ceapa said that working to develop caviar and sturgeon here in Atlantic Canada can ease that pressure on the market, enrich the aquatic life, and give New Brunswick fisheries a much needed boost.
“In our province, over 95 per cent of aquatic production is salmon. That’s crazy, makes it so vulnerable,” he said. “The more you diversify, you can easily wade through economic difficulties.”
“It is about time people change their opinions about New Brunswick,” Legras said. “It is not just a small poor province. It has a lot to offer with new people and new ideas, it just needs open minds. We can be a pole for high quality products as much as Quebec, even more so because of our geographic location, being so close the sea and to the U.S.”
Ceapa said he is grateful for the opportunities New Brunswick has given him, but he knows the province’s economy will demand he works harder now more than ever.
“I don’t have business training, I’m a scientist, but even I can see there is a huge opportunity to think outside the box here,” he said. “We all have to do something different, if not we’re not going anywhere. Maybe that can work for a period of time, you’ll catch that wave and you’ll manage,” he was cut off at that moment as the water made the boat lurch slightly and then dip steeply. Ceapa gripped the gunnel and grinned, as if realizing for the first time that the tide was going out.
“But it’s not going to be long term,” he went on. “The waves are up and down, they’re never always up. That’s why you have to be inventive, you have to find niches, and you have give yourself a competitive advantage.”
Photos submitted by Cornel Ceapa