The word caviar, an article in a French magazine tells us, not only stimulates the taste buds, but evokes the strains of balalaika music. But Russia and Iran didn't always have a monopoly of caviar it used to be found in the estuary of the Gironde in France. And may once again be, if scientists, ecologists and fisheries experts are successful. It would be desoiant, runs the article, if this fish, which was there in the time of the dinosaurs and survived their disappearance, were to succumb today to the depredations of overfishing and pollution.

We will hardly see, it is admitted, the tremendous catches of the 18th century. In 1769 Valmont de Gomare wrote: "The sturgeon in so common at Bordeaux that everyone eats it." And, at the end of the 19th century, caviar was so abundant that it could be fed to the ducks. This may remind some of the stories about Irish apprentices complaining that they should not have to eat salmon more than three times a week.

Many stories of the profusion of these fish in the Gironde. Three hundred million years of history behind it, says the article, and measuring from three to five meters and weighing up to 300 kilos. And the fish can live to be a hundred years old.

It roves, we are told. In winter it may be found in the Channel, in the North Sea and the Mediterranean but only in the Gironde was it fished. Its disappearance dates back to the 1950s. Then, still, fishermen would net fifty tons of the fish and thus three tons of caviar. In 1963 the catch was only six tons, with 250 kilos of caviar. The market died in 1980, with less than half a ton of fish and 25 kilos of caviar.

Only then was a plan put into action to save the sturgeon. So, along with the bear in the Pyrenees, the sturgeon is to be revived. A matter of pride. Farmed fish are to be released in the Gironde poachers and polluters, especially industrial polluters, are to be policed. A photo graph shows a formidable sample, about a foot and a half, ready to go into the river. But - a big but: this variety of sturgeon, a good survivor, does not produce eggs for caviar. However, an eastern fish which the experts expect to produce a "French caviar" is also being introduced. For the present, on a small scale.