8 March 2012
International Caviar Trade Imperils Sturgeon from Europe to Japan
Washington, DC "“ WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service today to list fifteen sturgeon species as "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These ancient fish have suffered from severe human exploitation, and loss of their spawning grounds to dams and pollution.
Sturgeon are described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as the most threatened group of animals on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In 2004, Beluga sturgeon, whose caviar is a popular and expensive "delicacy," was listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. Five populations of Atlantic sturgeon will also be added to the list as "endangered" on April 6, 2012. The fifteen species in Europe and Asia named by WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals are in no less peril.
"The situation is bleak for sturgeon communities worldwide," said Lee Hall, Legal Affairs for Friends of Animals. "Some experts suggest their only chance for survival might be in captivity. We find that future unacceptable."
"Sturgeon belong to an ancient lineage that has persisted for 200 million years, but they may not survive the onslaught of the human appetite," said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. "These incredible creatures can live to be a century old. For them to survive we must stop viewing them as a commodity."
All sturgeon reproduce slowly, and many species require decades to reach maturity. Dams impede their ability to spawn, and the loss of eggs and breeding adults to the caviar trade means that depleted populations may take decades to recover. Petitioning organizations call on chefs, restaurateurs, retailers, airlines, and the public to avoid products made from these fifteen sturgeon species, including caviar, sturgeon meat, and isinglass, a substance obtained from swim bladders that is used as a specialty glue or in the production of some beers and wines.
Sturgeon of Western Europe
(1) The olive-hued Acipenser naccarii (Adriatic sturgeon) once ranged throughout the Adriatic from Italy to Greece. Their numbers have declined from exploitation for their flesh. Currently only about 250 individuals remain in the wild population.
(2) Acipenser sturio (Baltic sturgeon) can grow to 16 feet in length. Fished aggressively for caviar, they have been reduced to a single reproductive population in the Garonne River in France.
The Caspian Sea, Black Sea, and Sea of Azov: the Heart of the Caviar Trade
(3) The olive-grey Acipenser gueldenstaedtii (Russian sturgeon; also known as Azov-Black Sea or Danube sturgeon) and (4) Acipenser nudiventris (Ship, Spiny, or Thorn sturgeon) have been commercially exploited and caught as by-catch, and are likely on the verge of extinction.
(5) Acipenser persicus (Persian sturgeon) are exploited for caviar and suffer habitat loss from dams and pollution.
(6) Populations of Acipenser stellatus (Star sturgeon) have been devastated by legal and illegal exploitation for meat and caviar. The Black Sea population is so depleted that commercial catch was halted in 2006.
Sturgeon of the Aral Sea and Tributaries
Three sturgeon species, (7) Pseudoscaphirhynchus fedtschenkoi, (8) Pseudoscaphirhynchus hermanni, and (9) Pseudoscaphirhynchu kaufmanni, have declined or disappeared along with the Aral Sea, which shrunk by more than 60 percent from 1973 to 2000 and continues to shrink. Dangerous heavy metals and agricultural run-off also threaten these populations.
Sturgeon of the Amur River Basin, Sea of Japan, Yangtze River, and Sea of Okhotsk
(10) Acipenser mikadoi (Sakhalin sturgeon) can grow to 8 feet in length and were historically common in Japanese markets; now, only 10-30 spawning adults survive.
Increasing pollution from Russian and Chinese agriculture is threatening (11) Acipenser schrenckii (Amur sturgeon), which have declined an estimated 95 percent.
Also native to China and Russia, (12) Huso dauricus (Kaluga or Great Siberian sturgeon) are among the world's largest freshwater fishes, exceeding 18 feet in length and one ton in weight. They are heavily poached for caviar.
(13) Acipenser baerii (Siberian sturgeon) are fished for caviar and have lost nearly half their spawning habitat from dam construction.
(14) Acipenser dabryanus, (Yangtze sturgeon) may only survive due to stocking, and there is no evidence that stocked animals are reproducing naturally.
The massive (15) Acipenser sinensis (Chinese sturgeon) were deemed a major commercial resource in the 1960s. Less than 300 wild individuals remain.