CAVIAR SINCE 1869
On September 10th, 1869 the barrel maker Johannes Dieckmann of Flensburg, together with his son-in-law Johannes C.F. Hansen founded the company “DIECKMANN & HANSEN” as a wholesale for salting fish. They worked with all sorts of fish, particularly with sturgeon caught in the river Elbe and its tributaries. Alongside with this of course went the trade with Caviar.
In 1891 the company established a branch located directly at the fish market in Altona, where the fish trawlers landed their catch. The address was “An der Elbe 2” and almost on the same spot is DIECKMANN & HANSEN today, viz. at the “Große Elbstr. 210”. Around that time the owners decided to give up the salting of fish almost totally in favour of the trade with sturgeon and caviar. This decision proved to be right and the business started to thrive. However, the increasing number of industrial factories along the lower reaches of the Elbe as well as the intensive fishing resulted in a considerable decrease of fish stocks in the river and its tributaries. DIECKMANN & HANSEN reacted promptly on this development and established already in 1895 their own fishing and production station for sturgeon and salmon and their eggs in Verche Tambovsk at the Amur river in Eastern Siberia.
Although illegal and over-fishing was carefully avoided the stocks of the Amur decreased very quickly so that their own fishing station was founded in 1902 at the mouth of the Volga river into the Caspian Sea in Astrakhan under the name of DIECKMANN & HANSEN. The salt from Lüneburg, especially for the production of caviar, was loaded over Pillau in East Prussia to the mouth of the Volga: The Caspian Sea at that time had an immense stock of sturgeon which were spawning preferably in the flat, calm waters of the huge delta of the Wolga. Nonetheless, the man in charge of the fishing station, Paul Reinbrecht, reported already at that time, too, that stocks were slowly but steadily decreasing. DIECKMANN & HANSEN’s fishing and production station in Astrakhan worked so successfully that only a few years after its establishment the station in Verche Tambovsk in Eastern Siberia was closed.
Around the same time the sons and grandsons of the founders opened affiliates in Berlin, Vienna, Paris, London and Stockholm and worked more and more in the field of exporting their own product beside the sales in Germany.
When the Great War started, followed by the October Revolution in Russia DIECKMANN & HANSEN had to give up their business in Astrakhan and hand it over to the Soviet State Fisheries. In spite of all the political changes the business relations survived and could be newly revived already in 1920, so that large contracts were concluded. DIECKMANN & HANSEN cooperated with the Soviet Union and large commission stocks were established in Hamburg.
In the times before the Great War (1914-1918) a quantity of abt. 100 tons of caviar was annually exported from the Caspian area to Europe; most of it to Germany. Due to the forced quiet period during the war and revolution the fish stock in the Caspian Sea had nicely increased again so that the export trade started to thrive again. Unfortunately there are no figures available about the quantities of trade by the Russians or DIECKMANN & HANSEN in the period after 1918.
Up to 1943 the trade in Hamburg as well as with the foreign affiliates was going on. In this year, however, the offices and stores of DIECKMANN & HANSEN in Hamburg were totally destroyed by bombs and the caviar stocks were gone. The business in Germany as well as in the other European countries could not be continued. Only slowly the situation improved after the Second World War, but in 1954 the business could be started again. The company revived quite quickly, due to the upturn of world trade as well as the German “economic miracle”. Turnover and profits increased during the 60s and 70s and DIECKMANN & HANSEN was on the upswing again. Without the affiliates, only in Hamburg, a quantity of annually 20-25 tons was traded again. After the revolution in Iran 1979/80 the situation again changed dramatically because of the so-called “Bazaar trade”, viz. the illegal fishing and production of caviar. This type of trade was thriving tremendously.
The Iranian State Fisheries SHILAT needed 10 years to clarify this situation. DIECKMANN & HANSEN proceeded in the direct import from the Soviet Union as well as Iran and could increase the trade considerably in the course of the 80s and 90s. Very soon after the breakdown of the Soviet Union DIECKMANN & HANSEN started worrying about the sturgeon stocks because the Russian State gave up the control of fishing and stock control of sturgeon catching and privatized the former fishing stations. The same happened to the fishing and production places in the other former Soviet States, located at the rim of the Caspian Sea, such as Kazakhstan. The “gold digger” times started with the usual companions, such as black trade, overfishing, smuggling and the rest.
DIECKMANN & HANSEN therefore was the first of the international caviar importers to plead the course of the protection of sturgeon and to look for a close cooperation with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Following this was the listing of sturgeon onto the list of the Washington Convention (CITES) and finally sturgeon catch from the wild was completely banned.
After building up sturgeon stocks in aquaculture DIECKMANN & HANSEN could take up their own production of caviar again, from their own fish and continues its tradition today as the oldest caviar producer and trader of the world with a history of meanwhile 150 years.