Peak Caviar

Once, black caviar from the Caspian Sea was ubiquitous in Russia in its typical blue cans. Now, it has disappeared. "Peak Caviar" has taken place around 1980 in Russia

This July, traveling in Russia, one of the things that I noticed was the disappearance of black caviar. Once, it had been common and - in the days after the fall of the Soviet Union - very cheap for Westerners with dollars in their pockets. Now it was gone; conspicuously missing from the otherwise well stocked supermarkets and shopping malls of today's Moscow.

I asked what had happened; the answer that I received was that the government had prohibited the sale of black caviar. This explanation came with some extra details, such as that the ban had come because the market had been taken over by some unspeakable Caucasian mafia which had set up a lucrative black market. Curious, because red caviar from the Far East was still on sale. People seem to try all the possible mental exercises before they are willing to use the dreaded word "depletion".

Back home, searching the internet, I found that it is true that the Russian government has banned caviar sales in January 2008. It is also reported that there have been problems with illegal sales. The reason for all this, however, is a simple one: sturgeons, the source of black caviar, are nearly completely gone. "Peak sturgeon", and as a consequence, "peak caviar (black)", took place around 1980. This is something I know well since I had written a paper on the subject that I presented at the fourth ASPO conference in Lisbon in 2005. Here are some data from the paper (Bardi and Yaxley, 2005)

As you see, there has been an evident peak around 1980. Note also how prices (corrected for inflation) go up exponentially. It is the same that was observed with whale oil (Bardi 2008) and that we are seeing now with oil prices. In early 2008, Caspian caviar prices had skyrocketed to about 10-20 k$/kg (note that in the figure prices are per kg of sturgeon )

"Peak Caviar" is another confirmation of how common the "Hubbert" behavior is. It doesn't matter if a resource is theoretically renewable, as sturgeons and whales are. If sturgeons or whales are killed much faster than they can reproduce, then they behave as a non renewable resource; just as crude oil. Note also something that we had not noticed in the first study. Initially, we had fitted the curve with a symmetric gaussian or derivative logistic function; that is what you can see in the figure taken from the paper. But, later on, we added more points to the graph and my coauthor, Leigh Yaxley, found that the fitting was much better using an asymmetric logistic. This graph is not in the paper presented in Lisbon.

As you see, the declining phase of the production curve is much faster than the growth phase. In my interpretation (Bardi 2005), these asymmetric curves appear when people make a large effort to continue increasing production. By means of increasing efforts and using the best technologies, it is possible to make production continue its growth beyond its "natural" peak at midpoint. This increase, necessarily, is paid with a more rapid fall after the peak. Renato Guseo (2008) and his coworkers have modeled the same behavior for the world's crude oil production.

The model by Guseo et al. (2005)

If that happens today, that is if crude oil production falls so rapidly as we see in these curves, well, we are in deep trouble. Black caviar is something we can do without, but that is not true for black gold


Bardi, U, and Yaxley, L. 2005, proceedings of the 4th ASPO conference, Lisbon. Link at the Oil Drum

Bardi, U., 2005, The mineral economy: a model for the shape of oil production curves, Energy Policy, Volume 33, Issue 1, January 2005, Pages 53-61

Bardi, U. 2008, "The Oil Drum", May 15,

Catarci, C. 2004, FAO Fisheries Circular No. 990

Guseo, R., Dalla Valle, A. and Guidolin, M. 2005. World Oil Depletion Models: Price Effects Compared with Strategic or Technological Interventions,

Nice work Dr. Bardi.
Are there 'abiotic sturgeon'?

Well, of course there are gigantic oceans in the depth of earth's mantle that contain an infinite number of archaic sturgeons. They have been swimming there since the proterozoic age. As you know, it is from there that the Caspian sturgeon comes, they trickle up from deep sturgeon wells. Indeed, it has been noticed that when there is no fishing activity, sturgeons gradually increase their numbers. This is absolute proof of the existence of abiotic sturgeon.

Thank you! - I always suspected something like this was the case. Your explanation conforms to my beliefs. I can't wait until people start catching those archaic sturgeons so we can buy black caviar again in my hometown. In fact, I'm going to go have some beers to celebrate my relief!

Also don't forget about the vast reserves of sturgeon in the Arctic ocean, just waiting to be exploited once the ice cap melts.

Moreover, in the late 1970s, Daniel Yergin, then president of CCRA (Cambridge Caviar Research Associates) published a report claiming that the production of Caspian caviar would remain at the high levels of the time and that sturgeon landings would reach an "undulating plateau" that would be maintained for decades afterwards. Recently questioned on the matter, Yergin, now president of Cambridge energy research associates (CERA) said that the undulations in sturgeon landings had been a little more intense than expected.

What is the point of that question? Is that some sort of ham-fisted attempt at denying abiotic oil?

The only reason most people dont believe in abiotic oil is because they've been fed a steady diet of lies about basic geology. If you dont know anything about how the earth was formed, you're probably not going to be able to understand where oil comes from. Or the salt in the oceans. Or evidence that dinosaurs moved in ways not possible under today's gravity.

This is a good place to start understanding:

Or you can make jokes and say the earth is flat.

Instead of making jokes and/or clicking the rate down button, perhaps you should take the time to learn how easy it is to propagate a Big Lie, and how incredibly often it happens.

wow- the sturgeon caviar (as opposed to whitefish) starts at $78 per much is in an ounce (like how many bites). Hard to drop that kind of cash on something so salty, (but my old partner from Poland was nuts for it)

Or if you prefer. You may also want to try caviar from . People are pretty creative in finding substitutes to products as they become more expensive.

My intuition says your thesis is correct about oil because of waterflood and horizontal wells in the largest of fields. Cantrell for example (nitrogen in that example of course but similar issue). But it is only intuition. How might we go about testing it?

When David Rutledge posted his study on coal here on TOD, one of the comments contained a link to this site on German oil production. It has just the opposite curve. Steep climb, slower fall. Any thoughts on why?

[Edit] Just look at the caviar price volatility. No wonder huge respectable oil trading companies cannot guess what the market will do!

Germany's remaining coal supplies are being extracted in a situation where coal is substitutable i.e by NG, Nuclear etc etc. This is the same situation for the US which peaked early and declined under conditions of ready availability of other source primarily ME oil.

You have to look also at the price action to see if the resource was under "stress". I think you will find that German coal never showed a exponential increase in price and was therefore never in short supply in the sense that alternatives resulted in extraction rate matching fairly low pricing pressure.

The US oil production is finally under exponential price stress and I expect that given the extensive use of technology in the US for extraction our current production plateau will undergo a steep decline unlike its historical decline rate where we were extracting increasingly efficiently but without the price pressure.

I think Jon was talking about oil production.
It would be interesting to see the discovery cycle. Just a guess, but it may be that there would be a smoother climb if oil facilities would not have been damaged in WW2, so after the war they could get back online rather quick, together with further new drilling during the “wirtschaftwunder”.
On the other side of the peak the reason should be that the fields weren‘t pushed to hard, German engineers are said to be more conservative… ;-)

You have to look also at the price action to see if the resource was under "stress". I think you will find that German coal never showed a exponential increase in price and was therefore never in short supply in the sense that alternatives resulted in extraction rate matching fairly low pricing pressure.

What an excellent pattern of thinking and reasoning memmel. You are Awesome... :) Brilliant indeed.

I wonder if anyone has started to plot a similar curve for the declining Bee population.

If you are still able to get caviar - then here's Belgium's favourite dish.

Take a wood fire baked potato - scoop out the inside and mix it with unsalted butter.
Refill the skin loosely with the potato flesh and pour on single cream.
Top with a dollop of red or black caviar.

Something I will now never be able to eat again in all good conscience.


The bell curve of sturgeon catch is not so clear if you go back to older data. I had to do an undergrad dissertaion on fossil fuel supplies and being a dutiful researcher went to the original data source, the cites database (I think). I found that there was a little cherry-picking of data in this particular example. Before the 1970s there is a another peak, a little like world oil production in fact.

This does not mean I disagree with the premise, just that this particular example lends itself to attack by anyone who goes and checks the underlying data. If anyone's interested I will post the graph I made of the whole data series when I get home.

EDIT: Just to clarify I am referring to the first graph of whole world sturgeon catch, the second is a much better and less ambiguous example.

Indeed we had started with a limited set of data. Then, when we had the whole set we saw that the simple bell curve didn't fit. Life is a continuous improvement.

Nice post, looking at the price curve we can notice the high volatility after the peak, that should tell us something about current oil price fluctuations

I greatly doubt that oil production will suddenly plunge as Caspian Sturgeon did because oil from unconventional resources (e.g. tar sands) and possibly reserve growth will soften the decline.

The work of Guseo is interesting and it's based on the Generalized Bass Model (GBM), mainly used in Marketing (see for an introduction). A special case of the GBM is the logistic function. Unfortunately, designing the prior shock function is very tricky and the parameter estimation is unstable (11-15 parameters!).

I greatly doubt that oil production will suddenly plunge as Caspian Sturgeon did because oil from unconventional resources (e.g. tar sands)

But thats not oil. Thats like saying caviar availability didn't go down that much because we can still buy lumpfish and whitefish caviar which isn't as good as the black caviar from caspian sturgeon...Quality was important in caviar and will be in oil.

As far as I know, syncrude quality is that same as light sweet crude oil so it's a perfect substitute from a consumer standpoint.

you're right - it's not a perfect analogy - other than syncrude has 2-3:1 energy return and requires lots of water and natural gas (or other heating source). so a better analogy would have been if russian authorities spent extra resources and underwent environmental cost to keep sturgeon populations static in Caspian sea.

I think Nate was talking more about the flow rate of finished product not its use in substitution. In general all the substitutes for light sweet crude suffer from being unable to match the sheer production volume obtainable from light sweet. Ethanol and compressed NG are also other substitutes that are not perfect but can replace oil in certain transportation uses.

Whats interesting is that for sturgeon the availability of substitutes did not seem to help.
Given the flow rate of potential substitutes for oil perfect or not I suspect they will have no material impact on the price and thus cannot lessen the pressure on oil extraction.

Only substitution on a scale that can relieve pricing pressure seems to be capable of slowing the decline rate.

Whats interesting is that for sturgeon the availability of substitutes did not seem to help.

Ever eat Lumpfish eggs?

Of course, syncrude production has a low flow rate and has a low EROI but it does not change the fact that it's still oil that will be available for decades and will slow down the amplitude of a decline in conventional oil sources. I'm not an ecologist, but I'm pretty sure that there is something else behind this sudden drop in Caspian Surgeon production probably due to non existing fishing quotas and limit on catch size therefore destroying the capability of the Caspian sturgeon population to regenerate itself.

Whats interesting is that for sturgeon the availability of substitutes did not seem to help.

Well, that's the point that Nate made, quality matters, there are no real substitutes for Caspian sturgeon because the quality is not the same. It's a little bit the same debate about artificial and natural diamonds, are they the same for consumers or not?

Another issue, is that the extraction rate for sturgeon is not bounded by technology but more by capital investment (invest in more fishing boats and you will get more sturgeon) where as for oil, more drilling won't necessarily give you more oil.

I was saying that even a perfect substitute that does not have to volume to moderate prices probably has no more effect then partial substitution on the extraction or exploitation pressure of the original resource.

For oil all I'm saying is that as long as prices remain high we will extract at the highest rate we can. Certainly above ground factors influence how close we get to the maximum rate but the pressure if you will is not relieved on the desire for the original resource. Only substitutes perfect or not that can replace a substantial amount of the original resource are capable of moderating prices and thus extraction pressure.

With out this substitutes only serve to keep demand stronger for longer as they delay the move to simply stop using a resource either the original or a substitute. So in my opinion only a fundamental change away from a resource or a valid significant substitution can really change the exploitation pressure on a resource.

As far as drilling more wells well that increases the depletion rate just like sending out more boats increase the depletion rate. You don't get more oil drilling more wells but your certainly extracting it faster. In the case of sturgeon this resulted in collapse. I've been saying for some time that the potential for the same sort of collapse exists for oil extraction.

The sturgeon example shows it possible. So the question should not be if its possible or not but does oil extraction fit the sturgeon example. Whats fascinating is that the dynamics of this sort of collapse.

I googled to see if anyone had numbers on the number of boats actually fishing for sturgeon but this is probably hard to get since a lot of the fishing is illegal. My best guess is that after fishing pressure reached a certain level the actual number of boats out fishing did not change all that much and the stocks collapsed under a constant but unsustainable fishing pressure.

For oil the thesis is we have gotten efficient at extracting the resource we are not extracting far faster then we can bring new fields online and in most regions we effectively have no more reserves to extract.

The decline in production is now tied to the depletion rate as fields cannot be replaced.

Back to sturgeons I suspect what happened is the fishing fleet grew large enough to take 10% of the initial sturgeon population a year. This was way beyond replacement rate and in 10 years no more sturgeon.

For oil the focus in on smaller fields with lifetimes of 5-20 years. We hit the maximum rate we could exploit these say back around 1990 or so we depleted the number of small fields undeveloped at say a rate of 10% a year and given the lifetimes of the fields about 10-20 years later having run out of "stock" production collapses.

Oil is certainly different in the sense we have the large fields which hopefully will exhibit slower decline rates but in my opinion the way we have exploited our smaller oil fields is quite close to the sturgeon problem and should result in the same decline curve. Over the next 10 years or so this will probably have a bigger impact on overall oil production then the slowly declining large fields.

Feel free to look around the number of smaller fields approaching the end of their useful life is astounding and in general these fields undergo steep declines once they reach maturity. Every region I've looked at has most of its smaller fields either already in decline or rapidly approaching decline. This fits well with the sturgeon model of efficient constant exploitation with effectively no replacement until you simply had nothing left.

Sturgeon farming. Given the right milieu, nutrients, etc. (what do I know...), some ex. from google:

Fish farming, or aquaculture, is set to take over in % of consumption, the wild beasts, just as happened in agriculture. Ex:

and: FAO: “For a quarter century, fish farming has been the world's fastest growing food production sector, sustaining an annual growth rate of 8.8% since 1970. By way of comparison, livestock production, also considered a growth sector, increased at a rate of just 2.8% a year during the same period.

Today, some 45% of all fish consumed by humans -- 48 millions tonnes in all -- is raised on farms.” (that number should probably be 50%. Just me.)

You can’t grow oil tru these biological processes.

A fast oil crash as indicated by black caviar, fantastic.

Just shows the complex interconnected-ness around us, and demonstrates how the future can unravel in unexpected ways.

Maximum Sustainable Yield.

We know how to do it.

It makes all the sense in the world to do it.

We don't do it.


Because people are really pretty stupid.

We're not stupid.
Its just that the evolutionary definition of 'smart' was to maximize current intake of resources. This manifests in what economists call steep discount rates and psychologists call impulsivity and what the market calls this quarters earnings.

The thing is, though, that we DO know how to manage for maximum sustainable yield, and there have been examples where it HAS been done. Sometimes people DO manage to get their act together and manage a commons in such a way as to sustain the resource.

This is why I don't take a very sympathetic view toward the "evolution has hard-wired us this way, we can't help ourselves" viewpoint. Evolution has also hard-wired us with a fairly large-ish neocortex and thus the capability to act with more than mere animal instinct. When we fail to do what we CAN do, what has been demonstrated that we HAVE DONE, and what obviously we NEED to do, all due to our failure to utilize the brainpower that nature has given us, then I think it is indeed proper to place the failure squarely upon the people involved, rather than on "evolution". Whether stupidity or something else is the appropriate word to apply under the circumstances is debatable, I'll admit. But brilliant it most certainly is not.

I meant 'we' collectively, on average, etc. There are of course exceptions. The task at hand is to make the exceptions the rule..

Merriam-Webster online:

Main Entry: stu·pid
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle French stupide, from Latin stupidus, from stupēre to be numb, be astonished — more at type
Date: 1541

1 a: slow of mind : obtuse b: given to unintelligent decisions or acts : acting in an unintelligent or careless manner c: lacking intelligence or reason : brutish

2: dulled in feeling or sensation

3: marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting : senseless

Sorry, Nate, but Merriam-Webster quite clearly disagrees with you.



I don't think it is stupidity exactly. It is tragedy of the commons. Every fisherman is rewarded for wiping out the Sturgeon population. No fisherman acting alone can restrain enough to save the Sturgeon.

The only possible solution is via some collective action. And collective action is hard to organize because it cuts the short term profitability of those doing the destruction. They buy up politicians and start denier organizations and fund publicity campaigns. And they can afford to do that because they are destroying the resource. Those not destroying the resource, are not making the profits.

Some days I wonder if this class of problem is solvable at all. Evolution seems to have taken the grab now/suffer later strategy. Maybe that is the only one that works long term (is ESS). Quite frustrating.

Agreed. It seems that we might almost be destined to follow the overshoot/collapse pattern, and be no 'smarter than yeast'.

Our rational minds don't seem to have much (if any) impact on the choices we make as a society, and serve only to justify them. This sort of thinking goes back at least as far as David Hume in 1739:

"Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."

We can use our powers of reason to establish our means, but not our ends. Our ends seem to have been pre-programmed through our evolution, and our rational minds don't even seem to have full access to what they are.

Perfection of means and confusion of ends seem to characterize our age.

Albert Einstein

Right. You are doomed. Save the Planet, kill yourself!

This kind of wallowing in psychological determinism is pointless at best.

Quit excusing people with evolution or brain chemistry or whatever. If you were some kind of alien who stood above all of this, you might permit yourself to make such observations in relation to resource depletion. But you're not. You're an inseparable part of the system you're describing, as we all are, and we can't afford the complacency that comes with neat mechanical explanations.

Do you ever write something you're not quite sure of in order to learn from other peoples reactions to it? It helps me anyway. Sometimes it changes my whole outlook on things.

I don't think I'm complacent in my everyday actions anyway.

Trying to understand the nature of the problem is not "wallowing". If passion drives human action and you want to reasonably a particular "end", you must choose a means in which human passion will inevitably choose the path to lead to the particular end.

It's not just fisherman with sturgeon. Sturgeon populations are severely impacted by dams. And in this regard, it brings the thread back to oil, ie energy from hydroelectric dams.

In the Upper Columbia, above Grand Coulee Dam, white stugeon have been drastically reduced from lack of spawning habitat. Just small stretches of free-flow remain upstream before another dam's reservoir begins. Studies indicate little if any recruitment for decades, no young fish remain. Mitigation efforts have begun to capture and spawn large adults-last year to 480 lbs IIRC.

Being bottom feeders, and very long lived (up to 100 yrs), the fish are a perfect vehicle to accumulate heavy metals and toxins. Lake Roosevelt, behind Grand Coulee, has plenty from a long mining history on both sides of the border.

Good catch, Doug Fir. I was scanning this thread to see if anyone would bring up factors beyond overfishing. Caviar, salmon roe, uni from Maine: overfishing is only one of the factors. There are other environmental factors like the dams and toxic spew. Any of those can be critical.

As for managing sustainable fishery. No, I don't think we know how to do it in the general case. We might know how to manage overfishing - but we do not know how to manage the other environmental factors. In the general sense, overfishing is only one specific environmental factor.

And what might be a bigger quibble. We are not talking in this article about "peak caviar"; we are talking about "running out of caviar". Over and over I hear peak oil does not mean we are running out of oil. Perhaps there is still oil 2 miles down under the deep sea and we "still have that". That sounds like running out in any practical sense.

cfm in Gray, ME

We are not talking in this article about "peak caviar";

Right, we are actually talking about Jellyfish blooms, though I think my reference might be a bit obscure to most folks out there, hint: "interconnectedness of complex systems"

Hey don't wory jellyfish are a protein source too and they can probably be processed and packaged to look like and taste like high quality caviar, wonder what the FROFI (Food Returned on Food Invested) for that process might be though?

Jared Diamond in "Collapse" found a few examples where societies managed finite resources for long-term sustainability. As I recall, they fell into two categories:
- Cases where the scope was so limited that everyone had visibility of the problem and a vital stake in the outcome (eg some small Pacific islands); and
- Cases where the ruler had sufficient power to force their subjects to behave in the long-term interest, and whose hold on power lent itself to a long-term view (eg hereditary rule). The example here was the Tokugawa Shogunate.

"It is tragedy of the commons."
I've never visited Russia, or the Soviet Union, so I'm operating only on my understanding of conventional wisdom:
The tragedy of the commons hardly applies. During the time of the over fishing, the sturgeon were the property of the State, and the State had repeatedly shown a willingness the kill its economic enemies. I think the explanation for the mismanagement of the fishery needs some other explanation than a 'tragedy' in free enterprise economics.

Or were we lying to our selves when we claimed that, whereas we are free, the Russian people were not?

no, you're simply misunderstanding the differences between the CCCP and the USA.

In the USA, old white men in grey suits run the corporations that rape the land and own the government. In the former CCCP, old white men in grey suits ran the government which owned the corporations that raped the land. In both situations, you have old white men in grey suits running things and corporations that rape the land. That in the CCCP the corporations (MiG, Aeroflot, Gazprom, whatever...) was effectively a function of the Government had no bearing on its destructive capacities and habits, any more than in the USA the corporations (GM, ITT, Alcoa, Exxon, whatever) were successfully destructive of the environment thanks to their ownership of the government.

The politics, left, right, indifferent, have no meaning. You're either pillaging the planet or not. That your society may feature Free Medical Care or a widespread prison industrial complex or a Gulag Archipelago or an Interstate Highway System or Free Compulsory Literacy or simultaneous Quadruple Bypass liver transplant surgery is of no real consequence. Free Housing versus 500 TV channels - it doesn't matter. Either your society is consuming irreplaceable resources or not.

Get Rich | Quickly | Legally. Pick Two.

Actually, government-owned fisheries in the USSR were pretty good at harvesting sturgeon populations sustainably, probably because it was an important source of export income for the government.

The real problems started in the 1980's when the state control effectively dissolved and poaching got totally out of hand (see the timing of the steep decline on the chart above). The poachers were much better armed and better paid than the government rangers who were supposed to catch them (Gosrybnadzor), so I am sure there was a lot of corruption going on as well. At the time, if you had the right "connections", you could get a 3-liter glass jar of illegally poached premium sturgeon caviar from the Astrakhan region at a reasonable price... yep, those were the days.

Have any experienced catfish farmers tried sturgeon farming?

Catfish are creatures that grow quickly to sexual maturity in stinky shallow warm waters that many creatures would suffocate in.

Sturgeons grow slowly, require DECADES to reach sexual maturity (minimum 20 years), can live for over a hundred years, and prefer deep waters.

Any catfish farmer trying to wait for the big payoff would be bankrupt within 2 years

It would be like raising elephants for their ovaries.

Not so about the bankruptcy necessarily.

Sturgeon have been farmed commercially for years in the US, Russia, Canada, even Iran.

There was quite a play in the 90's with US white sturgeon, I tried rearing a couple dozen for grins, but costs were excessive-essentially stuck with retail pet store prices/quantities for feed.

US "industry" is primarily in CA. It has shifted, from meat production to caviar, but consumer acceptance of white sturgeon caviar as worth the money is still undecided. (Industry is a misnomer, egg production only a couple tons)

Life cycle culture is expensive, generally thought to require 2 temps of water for optimum results.

In Wisconsin, spawning lake sturgeon are protected each year by teams of volunteer Sturgeon Guards.

But there is growing concern about the Mississppi River's shovelnose sturgeon now that the Caspian Sea fishery has collapsed.

Couple of points:

1. Price gets a lot more volatile later on as noted -price reaches about 4x Peak Plataue price when landings are half that amount ($2500@30,000t vs $10000@15,000t). Russians must have been pretty desperate for cash -which would keep prices lower- but the overall demand would be lower in the 90s...

2. I wonder if the 'World Oil Depletion Model' might be a good fit for NET oil available in some fo the Khebab/JB ELM models... I remember reading that KSA goes to zero ~2032ish...

-when NET=zero is everyones scr*w*d...? [probably a long time b4...]


This also means that it took almost 30 years post peak for us to recognize a depletion problem and do something about it. Makes you wonder how long will it take for PO.

Personally I think we will squeeze out a few more years out of the current system, resulting in that sometimes next decade we will face a production cliff, similar to the one shown up there. As long as we have oil price based on the marginal barrel produced, rather than its future availability we will keep on facing similar situations with all non-renewable resources.

"Personally I think we will squeeze out a few more years out of the current system, resulting in that sometimes next decade we will face a production cliff, similar to the one shown up there."

Me too, LevinK. More and more as I dig around indicators, evidence, and just plain straws in the wind, from many sources, the year 2012 gives me the willies. So many frighteners pointing towards about then.

the year 2012 gives me the willies

Cue Aztec/Mayan calanders ;)

I think it's a shame that they burned up all the caviar in their cars and trucks.

I can think of alot of better things to do with it.

Pass me a Blini please?


Caviar Peak illustrates very clearly that greed without regulation depletes renewable resources in a bell curve. If you let fishermen catch sturgeon faster than they can reproduce, they will.

If the world demands ever more oil, greed will increase production past peak. In many ways humans are no different than termites. We simply devour what's available without regard to whether its a finite (oil) or renewable (sturgeon).

Some day people will learn that sustainability is a far greater endeavor than short term greed.

I'm not holding my breath.

I totally agree that the right side of the curve will be precipitous rather than smooth.

It is not just that extraordinary means such as salt water and nitrogen injection, and horizontal drilling have shifted production from the future into the present. It is just the nature of disintegration to be disorderly. Look at stock market collapses and economic collapses which unwind long periods of seemingly orderly advance; look at plane crashes; look at the pattern of a human life and death.

In his recent book, McMafia, Misha Glenny describes the Caspian caviar trade, sturgeon depletion, the collapse of the Soviet economy, the growth of organised crime and, of course, oil and gas from the same region. All inextricably linked.

Misha Glenny rocks - I recently saw a copy of his book on the Balkans on a used bookstore's shelf and I really had to fight to not pick it up for a reread. This sounds like a good one to hunt up ... but I suppose it's too new to be in the $5 bin yet :-(

People show a strong, irrational preference for wild sturgeon caviar because it is rare, expensive and therefor luxurious; even though there is no perceptible difference between farmed or wild sturgeon caviar.

This is a poor model of consumer behaviour for oil; where people do accept substitutes if and where they are competitive.

In 1989 I was sent with American-Russian Television Inc., to Moscow and St. Petersburg and partook of the generous availability of cheap black caviar.
Naturally I brought back the small amount that I was allowed to take for personal enjoyment but indeed I found that it was also very plentiful and cheap for a short while when I returned to West Hollywood, if you knew the right Russian shops to look in.

Then it disappeared almost entirely!

I will never forget the amazed look on my new bride's face when I came home from the LA studio with three large tins of the delicacy. We gorged along with our incredulous friends and neighbors as if it was something to be had everyday.
We gorged as only a young carefree couple can do.

Recently when I recounted this episode I was told that I was certainly making a fabrication because "everyone knew" that black caviar was nearly unavailable for export except at great markup since the mid-1980's.

Is it possible that I had purchased my Ikra from black marketeers when I returned to Los Angeles?

Very good article.

However, I have a problem. A small one but a problem still.

As far as I could understand, after having finished the original paper, you guys realized that an asymmetrical logistic fit gives better results as far as the real data points are concerned. Good observation.

Then you translate it to oil depletion. Here comes my problem. Given the fact that fish have descendants but oil has not, I assume some of the steepness of the asymmetric fit (or the real data) is a result of there being less fish AND less spawns. That being the case, the fish-logistic curve has to be somewhat steeper on the downside (and less steep on the upside) than an oil-logistic curve should be.

Now I also understand it takes a sturgeon 20 years to become sexually mature, so this above (less) spawning effect may be negligible. Still, it is theoretically there.

Did you guys account for this in your translation of the asymmetric curve to oil depletion? You wrote: "If sturgeons or whales are killed much faster than they can reproduce, then they behave as a non renewable resource;"

How much is 'much faster' here in mathematical terms? In other words: can you directly translate the results to (the possible rate of) oil depletion?

You just answered your own question. Given the time interval over the peak from about 1975 to 1990 is 15 years and the cycle for sturgeons is 20 years no sturgeon actually reached maturity from 1975 till collapse.

But the fish had spawns BEFORE 1975, too.

What about those fish? The ones never to be born due to their parents becoming food I mean. On the the up the logistic curve there were lots of fish killed even before the peak. The effect was visible only after the peak.

That's what I meant.

It certainly has and effect true. Look at it this way when you start fishing given sturgeon have a 100 year life time and few enemies you had a stable population x that represented 100 years of fish. Now you can harvest these fish at rate x if the harvest rate is lower than the reproduction time period 20 years.

This is really nothing more than the tree farming problem. For trees you need wait 50 years say till maturity thus you harvest a plot every fifty years. You need fifty plots to be able to harvest one plot each year.

If you go over this by one tree you eventually run out. For sturgeon the sustainable catch rate is quite low.

You can figure it out its just a logistic growth equation. The problem with trying to type it in a simple manner is you have to bin it like I did for the trees otherwise its a continuous growth equation generally exponential.

Its just easier to talk about with words using the discreet form. All the exponential does is smear out the situation. In my tree example you don't really need 50 plots but only take a certain percentage of the total.

If you have 200 sturgeon and they mature in 20 years you can only take what one sturgeon every two years to harvest sustainably. The sturgeon harvest was way way beyond that. The number of new sturgeon that actually matured during the harvest period was really not all that important.

Look at it from the oil perspective we started producing a lot of oil well before discovery peaked this new oil did not change things all that much. The sturgeon that matured during the harvest period are like this new oil. You can treat them as just a bit larger original population at best its like a five percent difference.

In my tree example with 50 plots lets say I harvest all the plots in say 10 years but they also had a few 40 year old trees on them say 1% of the total at the end of 10 years I can harvest these additional trees but its only 1% of the total population. Once your significantly past the replacement rate then reproduction does not change things all that much. This is why extinctions can happen.

It was a fairly clear explanation. Thanks, memmel.

I'm well aware of your model and AFAIK you were not able to translate it to exact numbers. Same thing here.

I do not doubt you are right. And I don't doubt Ugo is right. All I wanted to know is whether there is a good way to translate the fish to oil. I.e.: do we get a number as a % of probable depletion after year x.

I have a rather simple model for this that arrives at depletion rate numbers of 5.7% in 2008, 6.3% in 2009, 6.8% in 2010. It stops at 8.5% in 2015.

I could translate it into English, the concept is not hard to grasp. BTW, I arrive at C&C production of 75 mbpd in 2009 and 60 mbpd in 2015.

I can send you the graphs in case you are interested. The language is Hungarian but numbers are numbers. :-)

Sure send it my email is in my bio if you click on my name.

However I think its good to mention that the actual date of collapse is impossible to predict.
Take our sturgeon population example and any reasonably accessible measurement and you can at best
create a range where the system can change rapidly. This seems to be caused because the underlying dynamics during collapse are chaotic and sensitive to the initial conditions. I'm not saying you can create a model of the collapse generally for populations like sturgeons is a forced logistic equation.

But determining the solution a priori which maps to the real world seems hopeless to me at the moment.

An interesting series of comments, thanks! Indeed, the logistic, asymmetric or not, is just an approximation and it does not describe the dynamic behavior of a reproducing species. The right model to use is the lotka-volterra one, that does normally produce slightly "saw-toothed" curves; depending on the assumptions. In practice, in some cases it seems that the exploitation is so fast that even renewable resources completely behave like non renewable ones. This is the case of whales that show a symmetrical, HUbbert-like, production curve. Sturgeons may be more LV-like. Should try to fit the curve with the LV model, but too many things to do... someday

Any chance I could get a copy? fred underscore magyar @ yahoo dot com.
I was born in Brazil but can still read Hungarian, ;-)

What about those fish? The ones never to be born due to their parents becoming food I mean.

Minor quibble, not only were their parents no longer able to reproduce but neither were their thousands of brothers and sisters who were eaten in the egg stage, kinda puts a damper on the long term sustainability thing just a bit more quickly I think.

Good analogy to peak oil. I've eaten fish eggs and it is not enjoyable. I'd rather the fish just live, breed and get on with life.

I vaguely recall discussions of the caviar problem at the time of the hot controversies about the extent of the oil finds around Baku. I think that I may have posted on this subject somewhere, possibly Prodigy, Debunkers or the Usenet??


This is quite an interesting post, I remember the sturgeons and the Tasmanian scallops from Lisbon. That presentation made me even more interested in population dynamics.

The curve that we see the sturgeon catch describing is quite rare and is essentially a mirrored version of the Gompertz model. The easiest way to reproduce it is to introduce into a constrained territory a new fast breeding species that feeds on a local plentiful species that breeds slowly. The new species feast on the local one to extinction, and then it simply collapses.

Probably the most famous example of such collapse was the result of the introduction of reindeer in St. Matthew's Island:

The reindeer feed on lichens that had taken about 400 years to grow. They grew in numbers and in body mass, until the lichens were exhausted. The reindeer population collapsed probably during a single winter, after which a single male survived along with a few dozen females.

A similar collapse might have happened with the human population of Easter Island.

I don't think world oil production will ever follow such curve, for two reasons:

  • World oil exploration is taken place globally and not on a constrained territory – it's more like different populations growing in several territories, although world oil trade connects them somewhat.

  • This kind of mirrored Gompertz curves are described primarily by the hunter and not by the prey – in our case oil would the lichens of St. Matthew's Island.

How about Peak cod?
I guess Ugo's approach could demonstrate 'Peak cod' preceding the collapse of the Newfoundland cod stocks and fisheries, with new fishing technology doing it's final bit. The lower trophic level presumably is still in place but the cod show no signs of recovery?
I agree with Luis that biological collapses are not exactly the same as depletion of finite resources, although his example of lichen (in this case the lowest trophic level)comes close. Biological collapse presumably becomes irreversible (a collapse of the Amazon forest might be such a future example?)if it resets ecological parameters and removes the lower trophic level. I guess we are getting closer to modeling the resetting of our industrial ecology with fossil fuel analogous to a biological lower trophic level ?
Other biological collapses are interesting: the 19thC depletion of pine trees in the Scottish Highlands for example, I think, has shown how even the soil seed bank can decay over time in some areas under the resulting new ecology (e.g. sheep and grouse farming). Perhaps human culture might be our equivalent of seed banks?

I am adding (EDIT)QUOTES from the above link.
The whole Canadian fisheries policy has uncanny and instructive parallels with our energy policies it seems to me.

Northern cod ... peaked at just over 800,000 tons by 1968. ... . The "foreign" fishing fleets were banished to the "high seas"... Catches naturally declined after the departure of the foreigners to just 139,000 tonnes in 1978, which is probably the level where the federal government should have capped it then, and left it for many years to recover. Instead, government and investors in fishing were, like the foreigners, thinking big. Soon, the stern factory-trawlers, or draggers as they became known, ... By the mid-1980s, it was the Canadians who were landing more than 250,000 tonnes of northern cod annually. ... Throughout the 1980s, ... hovered around the 250,000 tonnes mark, ... By 1992, the biomass estimate for northern cod was the lowest ever measured. ... [government]had no choice but to declare a ban ... For the first time in 400 years the fishing of northern cod ceased in Newfoundland. ... in 1995 the entire northern cod population had declined to just 1,700 tonnes and showed no sign of recovery ...

Icelandic Cod

It is economically efficient to cut cod quotas and give the cod stock opportunity to gain ground and (return to its) natural size," economist Gunnar Haraldsson from the University of Iceland's Institute of Economic Studies said of the findings.

In the 2007-08 quota year, which ends in September, this would reduce the allowable catch to 130,000 tonnes from 193,000.

Best Hopes for Good Fisheries Management,


Very interesting. Lets hope the oil production curve doesn't look like that. The only way it seems feasible is if we're to have a catastrophic nuclear exchange or pandemic or something.

I do think the curve will be skewed some way towards the right though, and I'm sure the net exports curve will.

Brilliant topic :-)

Yes, the price squeeze has made this now a snack of the rich. Gone are the days of frivolous eating. The quality has suffered also if you try to buy on the street of Moscow as I suspect it is the con's at work. Price is high enough to make this a worth while venture.

I've argued this before and at the heart of the problem is these types of solutions depend on some sort of logistic like behavior.

The mistake is assuming that logistic equations or Gompertz type curves for extraction of a finite resource are directly related to the physical resource like they are in biological systems. They are not !!!

What they are measuring is the demand or extraction pressure on a finite resource by a biological entity i.e man or reindeer. The quantity of the natural resource simply adds a scale factor if your will or sets the units for the system. As long as the rate of exploitation is fast then the ability of the resource to breed or the discovery curve for finite resources is secondary. In particular for oil for example we discovered oil far faster than we could extract it for most of the curve this for all intents and purposes could be treated as either a large population of "oil" that could be extracted or a smaller population with some breeding.

At the end of the day it does not change the dynamics. What causes collapse is that in our attempts to extract or capture a resource is that the goal of the predator us is to capture the same amount of resources this year as last year or more.

The intrinsic driving force is really simple and at its heart its driven by the fact that money is borrowed to accomplish resource exploitation. You have to pay back your loans which you took out based on your ability to either meet or exceed last years performance. We are a predator that cannot live in balance because we have tied our predatory relationship to a financial system based on infinite growth.

Whats breeding is investment dollars the more you make the more you can borrow to make more money. The logistic curve is driven by the rate of investment and is independent of the nature of the resource. As long as you can extract enough to pay back your loans your allowed to continue to extract if you can do better you can grow your operations by taking on more debt.

The logistic curve becomes asymmetric and sensitive to collapse if you can use some of your money to increase the efficiency of your operations esp as the underlying resource depletes. The financial system rewards working harder as a resource becomes scarce by increasing the price of the resource as older methods are unable to meet past performance and elimination of "predators" via bankruptcy and reallocation of extraction resources and rights to the survivors at pennies on the dollar.

Because the curves are measuring how we breed money from natural resources the exact nature of the resource is really not that relevant and I argue that as long as technical advances allow the extraction efficiency to increase that you will eventually fall into a collapse condition as investment cannot overcome the decline of the resource itself. Notice that only at the beginning do investment dollars flow into the system as prices increase once its clear that regardless of how much money you throw at the problem you cannot get more oil the investment dollars dissipate.

In the sturgeon case are any other I think you will see that investment dollars disappeared once it became clear the resource was exhausted.

Its obvious to me at least that this was the driving force since we fished for Sturgeon out of the Caspian sea for thousands of years and the same for Cod in the north sea. Its only when you couple our modern financial systems to resource extraction that you get the classic logistics either symmetric or asymmetric depending on the financial driving force.

To continue to understand better how and why we destroy natural resources you have to understand what we the predator really are. Collectively we are one of natures most efficient killing machines the cannibalistic super predator. Cannibalistic super predators occur when a predator learns how to prey on itself when its normal diet becomes difficult to find. As omnivores we are able to efficiently strip a land of resources then eat ourselves normally in the nature of nearby "tribes" that are different then internally in a group.

This super predator capability allowed us to pillage a land then use ourselves as food as we moved into new lands that had more resources. Natural constraints such as diseases and warfare kept our population in check but we have always destroyed. Overtime this intrinsic predatory cannibalism was redirected to ritual forms such as slavery and finally financial warfare and monetary slavery in the form of debt.

So once you understand the predator its pretty obvious that we can and will collapse our current civilization now that it has reached the limits and a few of use will eventually rule a much poorer civilization that probably adopts more direct and obvious forms of slavery as we simply don't have the resources to use more sophisticated carrot and stick approaches via monetary debt. People only willingly become debt slaves if the resources exist to make their lives "better". Once we are resource constrained and its obvious that most people will be poorer in the future to support the wealthy then we can and will revert to more brutal forms.

This cycle will not stop until we recognize what we are and take drastic steps to evolve away from our super predator heritage.

You have a very good (and original to me) perpective on this. If you write a book about this stuff, I'll buy it. Although there may not be time for that!

I think you might be right. Can you offer any hope here at all, in more specific terms?

Well its not hopeless long term we will eventually have to see our populations decline and we will have wars.

Now that we are resource constrained this will happen regardless we can hope that overall most people will be able to reach old age and that younger people will control their birth rate. Historically this has happened in the past say during the Middle Ages the birth rate declined quite a bit because men married much later in their 40's since it took that long to be able to form a household. We have enough food that if people are willing to accept a simple lifestyle our population can decline with dignity its not impossible.

This is the problem that cannot be solved by simple changes in lifestyle technology etc etc and its one that Mother Nature will solve one way or another.

Outside of this issue in regions with lower population densities such as the US we can readily redistribute the population and ELP economize localize produce. My opinion is we will go all the way back to the natural rive highways. Although overall the standard of living may be much lower then today I'd say that most people will still have access to electronic entertainment and computers and mobile phones etc. They should have enough food and decent public transportation living space will probably shrink for more etc.

So on a individual basis life will not be all that bad. Note that despite our collective destructive tendencies the serfs life did not change a whole lot unless his land was caught in the direct conflicts.

So we have this secondary culture of small producers and merchants that lived a sustainable lifestyle.

WestTexas ELP concepts and in my opinion the right answer is to foster as much small and individual business as possible since this form is very stable. Its only when we form swarms that we call state and federal governments and nations that we have issues. In small groups as long as we respect the local carrying capacity humans are generally pretty good. The only addition is given we have effective birth control we need to take control of our reproduction vs needs for sex. This is really just being more open and accepting of birth control methods.

Looking into the past before the rise of the Catholic Church ( I'm Catholic so don't yell at me ).

We had a much more pragmatic view. The views of the Catholic church make it clear the "right" position but our societies seem to have become unable to reach realistic compromises between what is right and the repeated failing of human nature I'm not picking on the Catholic Church except that they make their position very clear. This moral high ground approach has obviously failed esp when coupled with our infinite growth society.

But thats about it create a society that prevents concentration of power beyond the village/small city level and practice reasonable constraint in the number of children we have.

I'm sure we will figure out how to create collective projects that require more complex interaction say continuing space exploration under these conditions but federations should be done carefully with a clear charter. We can say build rockets or airplanes etc using distributed manufacturing. But we have to be very careful about how we form these large groups and why we form them and esp prevent physical congregations into large cities since its impossible to prevent the concentration of power from occuring in large dense populations.

Do I get it right? Our money, the way we are organized now, will inevitably go where it can do the most harm?
Given modern financial mechanisms, the industrial collective 'we' will devote more resources to chasing profit where there are rising prices of depleting commodities? I was struck by a recent comment by Rockman about a Texas oil company who drilled hundreds of successful wells and then was abandoned by Wall Street when it ran out of enough places to drill, despite still producing commercial oil. Chasing maximum harm seems to have applied recently to cod fishery in Newfoundland until the fish resource collapsed and the advanced trawler assets were stranded or, like the financial investment, went elsewhere, leaving government to ameliorate the plight of the fishing communities. One wonders whether money-making biofuels currently attracting investment can survive rising costs of inputs, or indeed whether tar sands having wasted vast resources will be strangled without enough water or NG?
Some trajectory!

Basically yes Nate has some great comments on this.

And example I used but corrected for the real population of Nigeria.

Is if Nigeria with a population of 120 million used oil like the US then they would never export any oil not even close. We use 25 mbpd lets assume they live a great lifestyle but are better stewards then they would still be at say 5mbd so they would be net importers. If you go through the worlds exporting nations and do the same calculations very few would have ever exported substantial amounts of oil.

Only by causing the most harm as you put it allows our large collectives to make money. Once you look at dispersed equality concepts its obvious that collectives greater than a few hundred thousand at most are a curse to humanity.

In general we need not form groups larger than 5-10,000. A few hundred seems to be best. The smaller the group the better but over 20 seems best.

Also all this group interaction happiness small company dynamics stuff is well known it just it interfers with concentration of wealth.

In general we need not form groups larger than 5-10,000. A few hundred seems to be best.

Mike, I'm sure you are aware you refer to . But if not, and for others, there is a link.

Fascinating stuff. Through the internet many of us have WAY more relationships/interactions than with 150 people, which gets to the question of quality....(quality yet again...)

and the money via leverage that forms the demand based logistic is becoming smaller, so it should change the 'supply curve'

(and memmel -i apologize -i know you are waiting on my maximum power post to write your guest post. its first priority after i get back from canada.


This is a pretty confusing text, since you're conflating several concepts that are not exactly linked to each other.

First I'd like to note that the US dollar wasn't the internal currency of the USSR and that by 1980, when the collapse started, the country was still fully run under a planified economy.

Secondly, in the case of the US (a country with a market economy) oil production as been following a pretty symmetrical curve.

And lastly I'd like to note that world oil consumption per capita has always followed pretty stable paths, being essentially flat for the last 30 years.

None of this invalids your point that debt can lead us to collapse, but it is really hard to explain all the above mentioned dynamics with paper currency creation.

World oil exploration is taken place globally and not on a constrained territory.

That little blue Earth ball is much more constrained than Easter Island.

cfm in Gray, ME

This is a great example of non-dispersive growth curve.

Here's a fun graph I stumbled across a few days ago:

Pacific tuna take by Japanese longliners (Western and Central Pacific Tuna Bulletin, July 2008).
Tuna take by Japanese longliners

1980 stands out as a peak here, too.

Fantastic post. Thanks for this. Most models of fisheries suggest that they are already on the collapse side of decline.

Well, the discussion on the depletion of the Caspian sea sturgeon is interesting on its own right, but I don't understand what it has to do with peak oil. The differences are that:
- the demand elasticity of oil is different from that of oil (presumably oil is less demand-elastic than sturgeon)
- as noted, sturgeon is a renewable resource whereas fossil (or abiotic as you wish) oil isn't, which means that fatally, the long-term production is zero
- both oil and caviar have substitutes but the oil substitutes are technically identical (like syngas from the F-T process, or biofuels), whereas the caviar substitutes are a matter of taste (lump eggs, red caviar...)
Also of note, the price stats for caviar are probably hard to confirm and should be taken with suspicion because before the breakup of the Soviet Union, prices were artificially and there were chronic shortages, and after the breakup, prices were distorted by the hyperinflation in Roubles and Manats (Azerbaijan's currency).
- Michael Grossmann / Tumbleweed

If you want to eat sheep you look after the big ones (because they will have babies in future) and eat most of the little ones.
If you are a fisherman you catch the big ones (that stops them having babies in future) and let the little ones go.
Stupid fishermen.