For Mo. caviar producer, Oklahomans provide harsh competition

Oct 15, 2012

Ahead of the holiday season, a Missouri fish farmer and black caviar producer faces challenges distributing and exporting his gourmet product.

The main challenge comes from the neighboring state of Oklahoma where there are no restrictions on wild fish catching. The co-owner of L’Osage Caviar Company, Steve Kahrs, said a state agency in Oklahoma accumulates caviar from all sturgeon fishermen catch and then sells it at a much cheaper price making the industry more difficult for farmers.

“I’ve got all this money invested, I’ve got all these people wanting to know when we’re going to harvest, and then I’ve got the state of Oklahoma who is a government agency who is going to literally destroy the marketing of my product," Kahrs said. "I can’t even afford to harvest the fish.”

Kahrs says by the time they paid landowners, paid all bills, taxes and other expenses the money invested in each fish was about $150. They currently have 30,000 fish in the ranching program ready to be harvested. Kahrs says their caviar is 100 percent green and should command a higher price than the wild. But for many customers price is the determining factor.

And while some people choose the cheapest caviar they can afford, others haven’t even heard the delicacy.

“A lot of younger people, my generation, young 46 to 47  (year olds) really have never been exposed to caviar," Kahrs said. "That tradition or that of Christmas or Thanksgiving having a little caviar, New Years having a little caviar is just not there anymore."

Kahrs is waiting for Oklahoma to announce their prices before they start to harvest fish. He says some of his customers haven’t committed to L’Osage yet and they don’t want to harvest more than they can sell.