Oklahoma has a black market caviar problem

oklahoma caviar

Eating well is the most important part of life to me. Food is not only what nourishes your body and keeps you healthy, but out of all of the sensory experiences, it’s the best. I’ll take a delicious, thoughtfully prepared meal over money or sex or all the other things that make life fun. Especially seafood, which seems so rare and precious in our landlocked cattle country.

But I’ve never understood the allure of caviar. Maybe I’ve never had the really, REALLY good stuff, like malossol Ossetra black caviar from Russia that sells for $100 an ounce. Sure, the caviar I’ve tried has been tasty, but for the money, I can find a lot of other ways to entertain myself. The amount you’d spend on the fleeting enjoyment of some briny sturgeon roe would afford a nice dinner at Ludivine, or even a VIP experience at Suger’s.

It has always seemed like more of a status symbol- a way to project your wealth and privilege by eating thousands of creepy unborn fish.

So it must be surprising for most Oklahoman’s to know that their Great Plains state is home to not only a growing source for caviar, but an illicit black market as well.

From KFOR:

A growing black market is feeding the appetite for one of the most sought after delicacies caviar. And Oklahoma is right in the middle of trying to combat the black market that thrives on poaching one of the prehistoric species that calls the Sooner State home.

Caviar is one of the finer things in life and it’s made of fish eggs, but not just any fish. Usually caviar comes from sturgeon eggs, but over fishing put that species at risk of disappearing. This is why the world is now turning to the State of Oklahoma and one of its most peculiar looking fish to fill the void for caviar consumers.


Retail, paddlefish caviar sells for $25 to $50 an ounce. However if it is passed off as sturgeon caviar on the black market it can fetch many times more than that.

“We did see things like paddlefish coming up and being mislabeled as caviar that would sell for a whole lot more,” said Dr. Phaedra Doukakis-Leslie.

Doukakis-Leslie is a research biologist who helped develop a genetic test to regulate the international caviar trade. It is a test that has helped cut down on the mislabeling of paddlefish caviar. Doukakis-Leslie said researchers are looking for ways to protect the paddlefish population from over fishing, which is what happened to the sturgeon populations as caviar demand rose.

“It is pretty difficult to regulate these fisheries, to regulate these areas where these fish live 24/7. ”

Just a few years ago a massive paddlefish poaching operation in Missouri netted more than 100 suspects who were ticketed or charged. The cases ended up in federal court.

Considering all of the sleazy industries that operate in this state, such as meth cooking, horizontal drilling, The Pioneer Woman, and bigfoot tourism, I would have to say that bootleg caviar is the weirdest. What’s next, moonshiner champagne? Counterfeit Tommy Hilfiger t-shirts at Old Paris? What kind of world do we live in?

Perhaps as curious is where all of this black market paddlefish caviar is going. Is any of it staying in Oklahoma? I wonder if there is a hip, underground new supper club utilizing the roe in a dish with new potatoes, blood oranges, and raw veal (RIP Nani). Or maybe Christina Fallin has been throwing wine spritzer mixers with a nude Wayne Coyne laying prostrate on the hors d’oeuvres table, covered in the finest sushi and caviar? Wait, let’s not think about that last one…