Sturgeon are the most Critically Endangered group of species in the world.They shared the planet with dinosaurs but, relatively recently, humans have not been so good at sharing the planet. 85% of sturgeon, one of the oldest families of fish in existence, valued around the world for their precious roe and consequent caviar, are at risk of extinction, making them the most threatened group of animals on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
Sturgeon have an almost fossil like appearance, a long, spiny fish that can live up to 55 years in the case of males, and up to 150 years as females. As anadromous bottom-feeders, sturgeon populate the lakes and rivers of North America, Europe and into parts of the Middle East and Asia, specifically the states surrounding the Caspian Sea, a hot spot for sturgeon exploitation. These ancient fish can grow up to 6m in length!
When contemplating the threats to the sturgeon population, it is important to consider biological factors. As a species targeted for their roe (fish eggs) the age at which they reach sexual maturity is of paramount importance, this can take anywhere between 6 and 25 years to occur. Sturgeon do not reproduce annually, which coupled with the late sexual maturity, means sturgeon are incredibly vulnerable to over fishing and other anthropogenic environmental issues, such as damming and water pollution.
In fact, so many anthropogenic factors are pressurising the sturgeon population in the Caspian Sea, that 90% of beluga sturgeon reproduction now originates from artificial breeding.
In the last century, the number of sturgeon in major basins has decreased by 70%. Most scientists attribute this to the dramatic increase in illegal poaching of the species which was at its worst during the 1990s, poaching in the Volga-Caspian basin was 10-12 times over the legal limit, the story is the same in the Amur River, which also drains into the Caspian Sea.
Why Are Sturgeon So Sought After?
When compared to all other fishery outputs, the harvesting of sturgeon roe is incomparable, it is a gold mine.
Processed (salt added) and packaged caviar will fetch anywhere between $1,000-$40,000 per kilo. Yes, per kilo. This is dependent on the type of caviar, the quality of it and its manufacturer, but with the sturgeon population dwindling it is only going to increase in price.
Warning: Video includes graphic images
The states surrounding the Caspian Sea are, unsurprisingly, the worlds greatest exporters of caviar; Russia, Iran and Kazakhstan produce over 80% of the worlds stock, with Switzerland, Franceand Germanybeing the worlds biggest buyers of caviar.