Add caviar to Florida's list of exports

Roberto Kasinsky peered into a 24,000-gallon tank, watching thousands of grayish-brown sturgeon swimming, their wombs filled with edible treasure.

"In Brazil, my original country, caviar was an exercise in fascination," he said. "Caviar is connected with Rolls Royce, with Bentley, with diamonds. It's associated with the good things in life."

Now, it's associated with Homestead.

After spending 13 years forging a new agricultural landscape in a state known for citrus and cattle, Kasinsky's company this year made its first major harvest of the tiny black pearls.

Rokaviar — the company he nourished after learning about sturgeon, constructing a farm, developing the right blend of fish food and making plenty of mistakes — expects to produce 3 to 4 tons of caviar this year to sell to cruise ships, restaurants and airlines.

Kasinsky turned from caviar consumer to sturgeon farmer knowing little about the fish, which take years to mature. He named his growing enterprise Rokaviar — the "ro" is for royal and the company logo is two sturgeon forming a crown — and it sits on 17 acres in an area where tropical fruit and tomatoes grow.

"It used to be a farm," Kasinsky said. "Now it's a fish farm."

Raising sturgeon for meat, leather, oil, fins and, of course, eggs, is a fledgling Florida industry that developed after a 1996 law made it possible to farm only exotic species of the fish.

The law spawned at least three farms now in various stages of development: Kasinsky's in Homestead, one at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota — the first to harvest caviar in 2006 — and a third run by the owners of Marky's Caviar in Miami housed in Pierson, west of Daytona Beach. The goals were many, including diversification of Florida's economy and production of a can't-miss product, with the U.S. consuming some 200 tons of caviar a year.

"Caviar is the only business you don't have to make any effort to sell," Kasinsky said.

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