Four ex-Soviet countries have agreed on a package of conservation measures designed to convince the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that they are taking conservation and environmental protection seriously within their domestic caviar industries.

A four-day meeting of CITES set to open on Tuesday in Paris is believed to be considering the implementation of an 80% reduction in export quotas, or a complete export ban, on caviar from Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

The four countries, which border the Caspian Sea, are the world's largest caviar producers, and have been accused by CITES of failing to prevent environmental damage and poaching of the sturgeon fish stocks.

The marine environment of the Caspian Sea has been damaged by commercial development and industrial waste from Russian factories has polluted the north of the sea, the sturgeon's favoured spawning ground. Overfishing and illegal trade meanwhile have meant that certain sub-species of sturgeon, such as the Beluga and Osetra, are nearing extinction.

Ken Stansell, chairman of CITES's standing committee, commented: "We owe it to the people of the Caspian Sea region to help their governments manage sturgeon stocks on a scientific basis and protect them from illegal traders."

In the event of an export ban, Caviar consumers will still be able to source products from Iran. The fifth Caspian state and the world's biggest producer of the delicacy exercises tight management of its caviar industry and is not subject to the same concerns.